A Joint project of AVillage…, Inc., and the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center.
Introduction: The Ezra Prentice Community Health Project was developed in response to a need perceived by AVillage… Inc., a community based not-for-profit in the South End of Albany. Ezra Prentice Homes is a public housing project situated next to the Port of Albany in the city’s far southern edge and has been officially designated as an Environmental Justice community by the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation. However, until recently the DEC has been reluctant to address the air pollution issues that plague this community. Through direct observation it was evident that residents of Ezra Prentice suffer from an extremely high level of illnesses that appeared to be related to air pollution. Ezra Prentice is in a highly industrialized area, with many potential sources of air pollution, but the two sources that most clearly impact residents are from the Kenwood rail yards, where oil tanker and other rail cars are parked and switched directly behind Ezra Prentice, and the heavy diesel truck traffic on South Pearl Street.
The Health Survey: Working with the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center, a partner South End not-for-profit, we designed and implemented a comprehensive health survey and organized local residents to do the outreach. Wherever possible we used verified questions and relied on advice from faculty at the SUNY School of Public Health in the design and administration of the survey itself. The Resident Outreach Workers make the initial contacts, conduct an initial environmental awareness survey, and make appointments for graduate students certified in human subjects research to administer the survey. Residents are compensated for taking the surveys with gift cards, and survey results are kept confidential and under lock and key.
Why This Model: Even with advances in insurance coverage, insurers and heath care providers have little success in reaching into low-income, minority communities and serving people with chronic illnesses who live isolated and stressful lives. AVillage brings deep roots in the South End that enables us to listen and respond to community issues, and to recruit and train community members to be part of the solution to their problems. Our partner, the Radix Ecological Sustainability Center, also a South End organization, brings a deep commitment to environmental justice and expertise in community health and epidemiology. (We also partner with Trinity Alliance on food security projects.) Because both AVillage and Radix are independent community organizations, we can organize and address environmental injustice more directly than can government or health organizations. The residents are assured of representation that has no other agenda but theirs.
The Results So Far: As of December 2, health surveys have been completed for 85 of 176 units at Ezra Prentice. Full results are available on request, but the raw numbers for asthma (found in 55 percent of households reporting, and with 38 percent of children), respiratory illnesses (20 percent of households reporting) and high blood pressure (50 percent of households reporting) are striking. The initial numbers were enough to generate new concerns at the local and state level.
Next Steps for the Health Survey: A larger sample size will increase the validity of these results. It is vital that we complete as many health surveys as possible. Our goal is at least three quarters, or roughly 134 of the residential units. This will require overcoming reluctance by some residents as they see results from other members of the community and also see the possibility of results in reducing air pollution factors. We also need to tabulate all the data and compare it to health disparities in the rest of the South End and with other demographically comparable communities. Up to this point, most of the survey administration, outreach and administration have been a volunteer effort. The attached budget represents the actual costs we estimate for completing the health survey work at Ezra Prentice.
Primary data detailing the prevalence of health issues on such a local scale is not available. The documentation of health issues in a community neighboring an active port could have a huge impact beyond Albany.
Next Steps for Ezra Prentice Residents: Our intention is to utilize the health surveys to advocate for direct services for the residents of Ezra Prentice who report needs that are not being met, and for enhanced preventive services for the entire community. At the request of the Albany Housing Authority and the Albany County Department of Health, AVillage and Radix are designing programs to utilize existing services to address health issues at Ezra Prentice. These programs will make use of our Resident Outreach Worker model, with residents trained in basic health issues serving as “credible messengers” in their community.