Local groups are launching a campaign to address health disparities in Portage County

image of the front of a brick building with a green sign indicating the Kent City Health Department
Kent Health Department. Gina Schlegel/The Portager

A group of Portage County social justice groups are inviting residents to attend a series of public forums meant to highlight and solve local health disparities.

Community Action Council of Portage County, Portage County NAACP, the Ohio Commission on Minority Health and other community organizations are putting on the events, starting later this month, thanks to a $15,000 minority health grant from the State of Ohio.

The idea is to “identify all the needs in the community, the gaps in services, and then start to develop programs and services that can address them,” Community Action Council Director David Shea said.

Social determinants of health read like a “litany of the factors influencing poverty,” he said: affordable housing, affordable health care, access to affordable mental health care, access to transportation to medical services, access to full-service grocery stores that stock nutritious food, early-childhood education, employment opportunities and so on.

“It runs the gamut,” Shea said.

Citing one example, Shea noted that UH Portage Medical Center recently closed its maternity ward, which was the only one in Portage County.

“You’re a single mom. You’re low income. You’re pregnant. Where are you going to go?” he asked. “They’re suggesting Geauga County. How are you going to get there? You don’t have any transportation. The burden of that closure will impact more severely on low-income families.”

The forums are scheduled for:

  • 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, March 25 at Skeels-Mathews Community Center, 4378 Skeels St., Ravenna
  • 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, April 1 at Spelman Chapel AME Church, 910 Walnut St., Kent
  • 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. Monday, April 10 at the Renaissance Family Center, 9005 Wilverne Dr., Windham
  • 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Wednesday, April 22 at the United Church of Christ, 1400 E. Main St., Kent

The CAC, NAACP and the Ohio Commission on Minority Health will also be inviting people to complete online surveys. Flyers will also be available at churches, community centers and various businesses across the county. You’ll be able to scan the QR code on the flyer to access the survey.

The organizations will compile the data and produce a report that will be submitted to the Ohio Commission on Minority Health, as required by the grant.

Shea and community organizer Frank Hairston have also created the Portage County Minority Health Task Force, which is meant to identify and meet community needs on an ongoing basis.

The task force currently includes about a dozen community-minded individuals and organizations, including the Portage County NAACP, CAC, the Portage Metropolitan Housing Authority, the Kent Health Department, the Portage County Health District and other groups.

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Wendy DiAlesandro is a former Record Publishing Co. reporter and contributing writer for The Portager.