Norwich residents have a higher incidence of mental health issues than those of any other city in the state, according to the 2012 annual report’s summary of the Connecticut Commission on Health Equity (CHE).

After conducting forums in six major cities, the Connecticut Commission on Health Equity cited four issues as contributing to Norwich’s high rate: unemployment, poor quality housing, lack of transportation and lack of access to medical care.

This is the first year that the commission, a legislative body created in 2008, included mental and behavioral health as a health indicator. Previously, it recognized six health priority areas — HIV/AIDS, cancer, diabetes, asthma, low birth weight/infant mortality and cardiovascular diseases.

These areas reflected health concerns where racial ethnic minorities far exceed disparities compared to majority groups.

“Behavioral health was added due to its correlation with other important health indicators that affect disenfranchised communities, including HIV/AIDS, obesity, and alcohol and substance use,” said the commission’s executive director, Raja Staggers-Hakim.

Apart from Norwich, the forums were also conducted in Bridgeport, New London, Torrington, Waterbury and Willimantic because residents in these areas suffer from similar socio-economic problems. This includes unemployment or under employment, lack of access to medical treatment, low DSS standards, poor standard of healthcare provider’s education and cultural competency, food insecurity and lack of health insurance.

Asthma and/or bronchitis was listed as the main health problem due to poor quality housing, whereas unemployment was shown to be linked with food insecurity and health insurance. Similarly, the unavailability of a diverse staff at medical facilities in the six cities led to increased health problems.

“This is a major challenge,” said Staggers-Hakim. “There continue to be issues around linguistic services that patients need.”

Staggers-Hakim added that CHE’s policy committee met with state and non-state agencies this year to develop and implement a statewide health equity plan.

The commission is also working with the Connecticut Office of Healthcare Reform and Innovation, Department of Public Health and the Department of Social Services to develop a health equity policy.

“Eliminating health disparities requires legislation and policy solutions and that is what the commission seeks to do by collecting statewide data on health disparities,” she said.

A complete/full version of the annual report will be published later this month.

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