Life expectancy in Lowndes: Multi-pronged approach required to extend longevity

Published 7:45 pm Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Lowndes County citizens experience the third shortest life expectancy among Alabama counties, largely due to chronic health conditions and the factors which contribute to and hinder treatment for those conditions.

Elected officials and local, county, state, and federal officials are working to improve life expectancy outcomes and most say the solutions require addressing the county’s complex issues with a multi-pronged approach.

“It’s important to get to the root of the problem,” said Robert Stewart, State Senator for District 23. “Everything points back to the social determinants of health. We need to address external conditions that affect how people are born and live, how they work and their economic prospects.

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“We need to address the economic instability in our communities. If you have money and access to resources, you will have better outcomes. Education is important as are healthcare access and the way our neighborhoods are built. Do neighborhoods have walking trails or walkable sidewalks to encourage a healthier lifestyle? Do we have support groups in our churches? How can we prepare our workforce for economic opportunities? We have to advocate for economic development opportunities.”

Daniel Blackman, Environmental Protection Agency Region 4 administrator said partnerships like the one between the EPA and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management Agency help bring resources, such as grant monies awarded to repair and Hayneville’s system, which extend longevity of life for community residents.

“There’s no singular approach,” Blackman said “It’s first recognizing that the problem exists and acknowledging that these individuals and these communities are really struggling generation to generation. Our job is to really focus on helping to build stronger state partnerships to address the issues by making sure that we’re getting resources there.”

Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce President Ozelle Hubert said Lowndes County’s lack of local, primary health care impacts resident’s health outcomes, but bringing healthcare to the area has been difficult.

“We don’t qualify for a hospital,” Hubert said. “The next option is to form a health care authority.”

Support for forming an authority has been slow in coming, Hubert said. Those who approve the idea seem unwilling to spearhead the effort.

“To me, the obvious answer is for the County Commission to form a healthcare authority,” Hubert said. “There are monies available to the healthcare authority that are not available to the commission. We’ve got to get transportation, a dialysis center and a rural health clinic. It’s a multi-prong approach. I’m committed to continue to try and make a difference.”

Additional funding for healthcare initiatives is critical, said County Commissioner Robert Harris.

“Better healthcare in the county comes on the legs of funding,” Harris said. “We are funded through taxes and grant funding. With grant funding, we have to do matching funding as well. You have to keep in mind that we have to be able to create a facility for healthcare that is standalone because of the tax base we have. We must have a strategic plan in place to handle the healthcare issue and funding is going to be the key.”

Kelvin J. Lawrence, State Representative for District 69, said gaining the necessary funds to provide health care is imperative.

“We shouldn’t have anybody that doesn’t have quality health care,” Lawrence said. “A person shouldn’t have to make a choice between paying a light bill and going to the doctor. Now, what that looks like has several options. I want to take the politics out because at the end of the day, it’s people, not politics.”

Education is also a key factor in solving the problem, said Gordonville Mayor Orbuty Ozier.

“One way to help is through education,” Ozier said. “People have a lack of knowledge about obtaining good health. We need more classes of encouragement, to help people understand good eating habits and exercise. It really has to start when they’re young to stabilize them for better health.”

Lowndes County Board of Education Superintendent Jason Burroughs said school systems teach health, nutrition, and physical fitness and provide health screenings.

Parent and community engagement is needed to reinforce teaching at home, Hubert noted.

“I see an opportunity to get more involved with a program facilitated through the churches,” Hubert said. “If we can get out and try to inform church groups and others, we could engage the community to share information and encourage growth toward solutions.”

Editor’s note: This report is the second of a four-part series of articles highlighting lowered life expectancy rates in Lowndes County. Part 1 revealed factors which contribute to lower-than-average lifespans in Lowndes County. Part 2 outlines what local government agencies and organizations can do to reverse this trend. Check out the Feb. 9 edition of The Lowndes Signal for Part 3, which will explore childhood food insecurity and residents can gain access to healthy food options.