What are the top health issues for Genesee County kids? This question was posed to Wendy Ringo, MD, MPH, Vice President of Medical Operations/Executive Director for Genesee Community Health Center. Before answering, Ringo said there are other issues that need to be considered. On the day we spoke, she had received a report that she found deeply troubling. New census data shows that Flint, again, is the most impoverished city in the U.S. “It’s really heart-breaking,” says the doctor. And in order to address childhood health issues, there are bigger problems and social deterrents lurking below the surface that must be addressed first.
According to Dr. Ringo, the top issue Genesee Community Health Center has faced in the last several months, is the state of homelessness and poverty and its effects on children. In Genesee County, 40 percent of the homeless are kids and 60 percent of children within Flint City are living below the poverty level. The age of poverty-stricken kids ranges from newborn to 17 years. When trying to treat childhood health issues, homelessness and poverty must be considered. “If a family has no home, no refrigerator, no electricity, how can we address medical issues?” Dr. Ringo asks. “How do you choose between putting food on the table and going to the doctor? These are the issues we are facing.”
Probably the top health concern for kids (and adults) is obesity, Dr. Ringo shares. “We (Genesee County) are dead last as far as obesity,” she reports. Second on the list of health concerns is asthma and respiratory issues. Another top concern is the assessment of post-water crisis health-related problems – something the pediatrician population is carefully watching. The medical center has increased their behavioral team to properly address these issues. “We are making sure these children have been properly screened and that they receive the correct follow-up services so that their needs are appropriately assessed.”
When it comes to kids, health concerns are multi-faceted, according to Dr. Ringo, and they vary by age group. Newborns, toddlers, tweens and teens each experience different health issues. “As an example, substance abuse in teens is a problem,” says the doctor. “Suicide in kids as young as ten years old is a heart-breaking fact.” Teen pregnancy is another concern, especially when it’s a second generation one. “When a teen brings a child into poverty, how do we break that cycle?”
Another big factor in the state of a child’s health is stress, according to the doctor, especially if a child lives with parents who have a substance abuse problem. “If we don’t address the parents’ needs, we can’t address the needs of the family,” she shares. “No child should be hungry or have to worry about their safety. They need a space to call their own where they know they don’t have to be afraid. Until these issues are addressed, the child will continue to be a victim.”