Once a week, every week, the health center at Stamford High School offers sophomore Roger Sanchez an oasis—someplace he can talk to a trusted adult about life’s pressures and problems, a place he feels free and unjudged. School work, sports commitments, family and social obligations: life as a teenager can be stressful, he says. If it weren’t for the health center, conveniently located where he spends most of his days, he would have a much harder time accessing counseling sessions that help him cope with anxiety. “The health center helps me out academically, emotionally and physically,” he said, and he recommends it to friends. “They get nervous, kind of, but I try my best to get them to come in.
When 9-year-old Jeremy Brown is in pain, it feels like he is being stabbed, while the pain experienced by Deborah Oliver, 40, is like a hundred simultaneous charley horses. Brown, of Bridgeport, and Oliver, of New Haven, have sickle cell disease (SCD), a genetic blood disorder that causes excruciating pain, life-threatening complications and a shortened life expectancy. Almost one-half of sickle cell patients die in their 40s. The disease affects some 100,000 Americans, about one in 365 African Americans and one out of 16,300 Hispanics; and in lesser numbers, people with Middle Eastern, Indian, Caribbean and Mediterranean ancestries. An estimated 2,000 people in Connecticut have SCD.
Tens of thousands of adolescents in Connecticut still do not have access to effective mental health care, despite the passage of a 2008 federal law requiring health insurers to provide equal benefits for mental health. Poor access to care leads to undiagnosed or misdiagnosed mental illness in children and adolescents, an increase in use of emergency rooms for psychiatric issues, and is a risk factor for severe mental illness, substance abuse, failure in school, and entering the juvenile justice system. National studies show that about 1 in 5 children and teens have mental illness, but only one quarter of them receive services. “That leaves about 125,000 children without mental health care in Connecticut,” said Susan Kelley, director of the Alliance for Children’s Mental Health. Some say that estimate is low, partly because it doesn’t capture mental illness misdiagnosed as behavioral problems. “I think that’s a very optimistic figure,” said Eliot Brenner, PhD, president and CEO of the Child Guidance Center of Southern Connecticut.
Depending on your ZIP code, Connecticut is a wonderful place to live. A recent United Health Foundation report said Connecticut ranks sixth in the nation for women and children’s health. The state scored high because of a low teen birth rate, as well as a high percentage of publicly funded women’s health services needs being met. But the state faces a yawning disparity of health status among residents—and its segregated towns. That’s significant because research shows that if you want to calculate your life expectancy, check your ZIP code and your median household income.
With Connecticut children testing positive for lead at consistently high numbers, and millions of dollars thrown at the problem with tepid results, lawmakers may finally be stepping up to seek an effective solution. The Banking Committee is considering a bill that would create a task force to study better ways to finance the removal of the toxin from thousands of homes around the state. The task force would also investigate how to enforce abatement measures, including rental property inspections, and look into increasing workforce training in the specialized process needed to remove lead. State Department of Public Health (DPH) numbers from 2015, the latest available, show more than 72,000 children under the age of 6 testing positive for some level of lead in their blood. More than 900 children were at levels two to four times the baseline at which a child is considered poisoned.
Joanne Goldblum of New Haven is on a mission to get health care clinicians to recognize that poverty may be the underlying cause of their patients’ illnesses and that the best treatment might be as simple as a brown bag of food or a tube of toothpaste. Goldblum is CEO of the New Haven-based National Diaper Bank Network (NDBN), an organization dedicated to getting basic needs to people. She co-authored the Basic Needs-Informed Care Curriculum—with support from Yale School of Medicine faculty—designed to help clinicians, social workers and educators recognize the myriad ways a lack of resources can present itself. For example, a baby comes to a well child visit in dirty clothes. Clinicians might typically ask: Is the mother too depressed to care for the infant?
On a snowy Saturday morning in January, Selvin, 13, and his mother were in the basement of the First and Summerfield United Methodist Church in New Haven, to support a friend in sanctuary. As they sat there, the boy tried to push away thoughts of how it would be when ICE came to take away his own mother, who is also under a deportation order. “I’m going to be alone with my little brother and my dad,” Selvin said. “Sometimes I feel I don’t want to talk to anybody. I just go to my room, lock the door, and I feel depressed.”
Selvin – whose family asked that his last name be withheld – is among thousands of immigrant children in Connecticut and nationally feeling the effects of prolonged stress, which can become so toxic it can damage the developing brain.
While the prevalence of strokes in Connecticut has essentially remained the same in recent years, progress in slowing the number of deaths from stroke has declined in the state, a development the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) calls “disturbing.”
The spike reverses a national decades-long trend that brought stroke death rates down. From 1999 to 2014, deaths from strokes were on the decline in the state and nationally. But a recent CDC report found that Connecticut was among 39 states in which the decline in stroke deaths has slowed or the number of stroke deaths has started to increase. From 2012 to 2015, the number of stroke deaths in Connecticut increased 9.5 percent, from 1,263 to 1,384. Stroke deaths were highest in the northeast and northwest regions of the state, CDC data show.
There are 27 facilities in Connecticut that use such large quantities of hazardous chemicals that they are required to submit disaster response plans to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. About 170,000 people—roughly 5 percent of the state’s population—live within a mile of these facilities, risking exposure to a leak, explosion or adverse health effects. Low-income people and children of color under the age of 12 are more likely than their white counterparts to live in these “fenceline” communities, according to a report by the Center for Effective Government. In its report “Living in the Shadow of Danger: Poverty, Race and Unequal Chemical Facility Hazards,” the center examined more than 12,500 facilities in 50 states, grading states based on the “disparities faced” by people living adjacent to or near these facilities. The center reported that children of color under age 12 living in the state were 2.2 times more likely than white children to live within a mile of one of these facilities. In many instances, residents are unaware of the dangers just blocks from their homes, the report said.
On the surface, Connecticut is a great place to raise children. Our schools, on average, perform well. Families have access to incredible learning opportunities in our history, science and creative arts. But what do you call a crisis in waiting? A report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, ranked Connecticut sixth in the nation for things such as economics, education and health among our younger residents.