Our generational neglect of Buffalo’s East Side continues to leave its 150,000 residents profoundly susceptible to COVID-19 illness and death. Buffalo’s East Side is predominantly Black and Brown, with the highest rates of extreme social vulnerability in Western New York. Extreme social vulnerability, as identified by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has been directly tied to a 30% increase in COVID-19 mortality.
University at Buffalo Professor Henry Louis Taylor, Jr. identified in 1991 the tragic effect of East Side neglect – dilapidated housing and poor rates of homeownership, over policing, limited public transportation options, underinvestment in schools and children’s programs, poor job prospects – on the health of its residents. In a similar 2014 study entitled, Striving for a Healthier Buffalo, Dr. Taylor found that little had changed. Today, despite DSRIP investments from 2015-2020 totaling nearly $400 million dollars, housing quality, transportation availability, employment prospects, and health outcomes in Buffalo’s East Side remain woefully substandard. Even before COVID-19, more than 50% of Black and Brown residents of Erie County were dying prematurely.
It’s time for Erie County to get serious about health equity. That’s why I’m proud to support The Erie County Health Equity Act of 2021: a bill proposed by Representative April Baskin and currently before the Erie County Legislature. Once law, this act will create an Office of Health Equity within the Erie County Department of Health and establish an Erie County Health Equity Advisory Board.
These permanent structures will hold our elected officials and government health administrators accountable for their decision making about investments in the County’s health system. The created structures will regularly analyze and publicize the health disparities that currently exist, however politically unappealing the results of such analysis may be. The Act will ensure that models for tackling such inequities are pilot tested and, if successful, recommended for ongoing investment. Most significantly, the created structures will approach health from a social justice perspective: one that incorporates livable wages, affordable housing, safe neighborhoods, and access to healthy food.
Let your elected officials know that you, too, support The Erie County Health Equity Act.
Raul Vazquez, MD – Chief Executive Officer
GBUACO / GBUAHN / GBUIPA