In cities throughout Connecticut, urban farms and community gardens are sprouting up to address a significant health challenge: Many people don’t have access to enough food or access to healthy food. About 13% of Connecticut residents said they did not have enough money to pay for food at least once in the previous year, according to the most recent Community Wellbeing Survey conducted by DataHaven in 2018. Black and Hispanic residents were more likely to struggle, with 23% and 28%, respectively, reporting food insecurity. In several cities, about a quarter of all residents struggle to pay for food. Urban residents are also less likely to have access to fresh fruits and vegetables, according to the survey.
Connecticut’s rural residents die at higher rates than their city and suburban counterparts and a large percentage of those deaths may be preventable if better public health programs or better access to health care services were available, according to the latest data from the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS). Doctor shortages and long commutes make it harder for rural residents to get health care. And some officials worry that changes in hospital ownership and the Affordable Care Act could amplify existing problems.
“We have excellent medical care as a general rule in the state,” state Rep. Susan Johnson, D-Windham, said. But rural and other high poverty areas, where many residents are on Medicaid rather than private health insurance, remain vulnerable to hospital service reductions and changes in eligibility for health care coverage, she said. “My battle is to make sure the basic hospital services, like critical care units, are maintained in the small rural hospitals,” Johnson said.
The rates of asthma-related emergency room visits and hospitalizations dropped in many Connecticut communities, the latest data from the state Department of Public Health show. Overall, 58 percent of communities saw a decrease in the age-adjusted rate of emergency room visits, while 63 percent saw a decrease in the rate of hospitalizations for asthma, according to a C-HIT analysis of the data. Some 36 percent saw improvement in both areas. The data compares age-adjusted rates for each town for 2005-2009 and for 2010-2014 per 10,000 people. Meanwhile, the state’s overall rate for emergency room visits in 2014 was lower than recent years but still was higher than it was 10 years ago.
More Connecticut doctors, therapists and psychologists are turning to the practice of mindfulness to help treat depression, anxiety, chronic pain and even addiction. The practice — which cultivates an awareness of the present moment and an acceptance of the feelings and emotions that come with it — has reached the mainstream and is being adopted by new fields. Veterans groups are using mindfulness and yoga as a healing tool. Teachers in some Connecticut elementary schools have incorporated it into their classrooms to help students focus. And universities are offering mindfulness training to help students deal with stress.
Experts are focusing more money and attention on the health of young children in Connecticut in an effort to prepare them to be successful in school later on. The efforts include developmental screenings at child care centers, home visits and information hotlines for parents, better collaboration with pediatricians and more support for preschool staff members dealing with emotional and behavioral issues. The idea is that if a child’s basic health needs aren’t met, he or she won’t be able to keep up with academic and social expectations in school. “There’s been a huge interest in addressing early childhood development with the understanding that’s where we get the most bang for the buck,” said Lisa Honigfeld, the vice president for health initiatives at The Child Health and Development Institute of Connecticut. In the last 10 years, there has been “an explosion” of federal funding for early childhood initiatives to get children on track early and prevent spending on remediation down the road, Honigfeld said.
More Connecticut students report feeling sad and hopeless and they are seeking help at school-based health clinics, as more students become aware of the services, counselors say. Their problems range from bullying to family issues to anxiety. As the national post-Newtown conversation about mental health issues and school security continues, advocates are pushing for more early intervention programs, such as the health clinics, inside schools. “Securing buildings from the outside may keep somebody out, but it’s not helping somebody that is behind those doors,” said Shari Shapiro, the executive director of Kids in Crisis, a Fairfield County nonprofit that has an in-school counseling service called TeenTalk in six schools. The percentage of teens who said they’ve attempted suicide has ranged between 6.7 and 12 percent for the last decade, according to the state’s bi-annual Youth Risk Behavior Survey.
Ava Passley covered her nose and giggled as Dr. Jacob Hen walked into an examination room at his pediatric pulmonology office in Trumbull recently. Ava, 3, of Bridgeport, knows what to expect from a visit with Hen, having dealt with asthma since she was 1. She also spent several nights in the hospital after an attack in 2012. “I had always heard about wheezing, but had never really heard it before that,” her mother, Beverly Passley said. Ava is part of growing number of people in Connecticut who have used the emergency room for asthma symptoms, according to the most recent figures from the state Department of Public Health.