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Old Brooklyn now making its residents’ health a priority

September 18, 2018

Old Brooklyn now making its residents’ health a priority

CLEVELAND, Ohio – The Old Brooklyn Community Development Corporation is now in the health business. 

The group that historically worked to offer low-income housing options and to support small businesses now identifies improving health as a necessary part of community development and is taking steps to improve the health of its more than 30,000 residents. 

“The neighborhood was going and continues to go through a lot of change. I think the city is going through a lot of change,” said Jeff Verespej, executive director of OBCDC. “Just doing the same thing we’ve done for 40 years was insufficient for the changing times.” 

The OBCDC plans to launch three to five new pilot programs in the next year and revamp its existing programs to incorporate better health outcomes in such areas as exercise, nutrition and medicine.

The addition of a health focus to the organization’s mission is part of a larger shift in recognizing zip codes and social factors as determinants of health. 

“CDC’s are in the zip code improvement business,” said Verespej, who hopes to see the work being done by OBCDC be replicated by other CDCs in both Cleveland and across the country. 

The “turning point” in Old Brooklyn came during the preparation of the group’s newest strategic plan, “Old Brooklyn 2020″ two years ago, Verespej explained. 

“We haven’t really asked about the lives we’ve improved. Our consultant challenged us on that,” Verespej said. “It was a bit of a cold-water-on-the-face moment.” 

To start, the OBCDC worked with local partners to complete a community health needs assessment focused on the neighborhood. Hospitals and health departments regularly complete such assessments but those are more regionally based and less targeted than the hyper-local survey completed by OBCDC, Verespej said. 

“No one is really doing a comprehensive look on what is health, how is it perceived by its residents and how does it affect the quality of life of its residents,” said Jennifer King, a community health fellow for the OBCDC who was hired to spearhead the community health needs assessment. “It’s certainly different because it’s grassroots level. It’s a community-based organization doing this type of assessment.” 

Through a survey of 412 residents, the OBCDC found: 

Only 41 percent of residents reported using at least one Old Brooklyn park;There is a lack of parks near the center of the neighborhood;Of residents surveyed, 19.4 percent worried about running out of food, with double-digit percentages choosing between food and housing (20 percent), food and clothing (16.7 percent) and food and education (18.2 percent); 35.6 percent of residents experience housing burden, which means that the cost of housing is more than 30 percent of their income; 9.3 percent reported misusing prescription drugs, 97 percent of whom don’t intend to quit; and 25.3 percent of residents characterized their overall health as poor to fair. 

“It was pretty shocking to see the number of residents who are making some type of trade-off: a trade-off between purchasing food and medical expenses or purchasing food and housing expenses,” King said.

The group will unveil its findings during a Health in Action Summit Sept. 27 and 28, hosted with Baldwin Wallace University. 

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