Lifespans Without Borders: Bridging the ZIP Code Life Expectancy Gap 

A 2015 joint study by SAVI and IUPUI found that residents of Carmel had an average life expectancy of 83.7 years, while the average resident living south of Monument Circle doesn’t live to see their 70th birthday—a figure comparable to many developing nations. How does a 14-mile difference equate to a 14-year difference in life expectancy? 

The answer: Equitable access to physical and mental healthcare services, neighborhood walkability, access to healthy food, and transportation options. These key components drastically improve health outcomes, and further investments are needed to ensure all Hoosiers are able to live long and healthy lives. 

Here’s where we are: 

  • 65% of Marion County residents do not live within a 10-minute walk to a park. 
  • Around 200,000 Indy residents live in food deserts —one in five Marion County residents. 
  • Around 200,000 residents also live in poverty. 

Food deserts and poverty are clearly defined and can be measured with specific criteria provided by government agencies. Transportation and walkability scores can be calculated through mapping and statistical analysis. Quality of and access to care, as well as equity in treatment and bedside manner, however, are trickier to track.  

Addressing Physical Health 

While the statistics behind health equity disparities are difficult to track, the stories and people behind them are not. My grandmother lost her vision due to diabetes, my aunt had MS, and my uncle succumbed to an opioid overdose. The disparate conditions they faced attempting to get care and support no doubt contributed to their suffering. It is an equity issue. Do some providers listen to their white patients more than their patients of color? Is there less urgency when someone who needs care is a person of color? These questions are answered by ZIP code, and how we bridge the divide is the true question that will drive us to a solution. 

At Engaging Solutions, we established a health equity service line to help patients and healthcare practitioners alike ensure that they are receiving and delivering equitable healthcare. Through webinars hosted by doctors of color, healthcare providers are able to learn how to provide the best care to black and brown patients, ensuring that all patients receive equity in treatment and bedside manner. 

We’re grateful for the support of major healthcare companies, including IU Health and Eskenazi Hospital, especially IU’s new campus expansion and Eskenazi’s health equity zones, both of which will help people in underserved neighborhoods live longer, healthier lives. 

Addressing Mental Health 

Empathy is often misconstrued as feeling for someone, when it is really feeling with someone. You do not have to have experienced what someone else has experienced to feel with them. Keeping an open mind and an open heart is integral to ensuring people know you are hearing them. The same goes for mental health care. As a pastor, the church I am a part of had a food pantry. In addition to the food pantry, we had a mental health counselor there to lead group discussions. Her empathetic approach took away the stigma, and her openness and transparency encouraged others to share their stories. The letters behind her name were no longer intimidating.  

In communities with the highest death and poverty rates, people will start to feel a little crazy, a little hopeless. Bringing in resources to combat depression and other mental ailments starts with bringing in someone to hear, so people can heal

Sparking Hope 

One day I found myself parked in the driveway of our neighborhood church, overwhelmed by the news that one of our congregation members—a young man—had just been shot and killed. The ZIP code that we served, 46218, had and still has one of the highest homicide rates in the city, and I thought to myself: “This is a lot. Can I continue to do this?” 

While I was grieving in the car, I got a call from my friend Anthony Beverly with Stop the Violence Indianapolis. He helped console and comfort me, saying: “The way that you are able to do this work is one person at a time, not by looking at the aggregate, because the aggregate can be overwhelming. You do what you can do and then you connect with other people that can help, while building on your strengths at the same time.” 

We’re all in this together. It takes pastors. It takes public safety members. It takes teachers. It takes community workers and community-based organizations. We should never feel like we have to walk this out on our own. 

At another point in time, Anthony invited me to a Stop the Violence March, and at the end of the march, he passed the microphone to a few community leaders that were in attendance. They gave their words of encouragement before he passed the mic to me, and I told everyone something my grandmother had said to me:  

Keep your light on. She used to sing a song that went There’s a bright light somewhere. We’re gonna seek it ‘til we find it. There’s a bright light somewhere. 

If we just keep searching for that light, even in the midst of darkness, even in the midst of racial unrest, even in the midst of economic downturn, if we continue to seek that light, there is a bright light somewhere and we will find it. And at the same time that we’re seeking the light, we have to turn our light on so we can see the path forward—so let’s keep our lights on. 

Learn more about Engaging Solutions and see what it means to get involved in Business Equity for Indy. 

Blog authored by Tammy Butler, CEO, Engaging Solutions

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