As the director of the Escambia County Health Department, Dr. John Lanza oversees an area of the state that is riddled with health issues. The issue on his mind at the moment happens to be infant mortality.
Lanza is particularly concerned about the infant mortality rate among the area’s minority community.
“It’s almost three times as much,” the doctor explained. “We’ve seen this issue for many, many years. It just seems to go up and go up.”
Lanza can’t explain the higher rate of infant mortality among minorities. No one can, yet.
“That’s what we’re trying to figure out,” he said. “There are a number of theories out there.”
One theory that the medical community is looking at is called “weathering.” The term describes psychological wear and tear, and Lanza is currently exploring the theory with a professor at the University of West Florida.
But the high rate of infant mortality in the minority community is only one health issue with which Lanza has to grapple. There’s also the area’s high rate of sexually transmitted diseases.
“Regardless of education, regardless of what we’ve tried to do in the community to combat that—we’ve done billboards, advertising, education and whatever—we’re still at high levels,” Lanza said.
To be frank, Escambia County has a myriad of health issues. Often times, such issues are linked to other aspects of the community.
“We have a high poverty level here. We have an education level where not everybody graduates from high school. Poor choices,” Lanza rattled off a few contributing factors. “It’s not one thing.”
As a board member of the Partnership for a Healthy Community—which released yet another in a stream of dismal community health assessments last year—Lanza is also particularly focused on three areas identified as targets for improvement: curbing tobacco use, fighting obesity and helping individuals better manage their health care.
“There are many issues, but you can’t address 20 issues at the same time,” the doctor said. “You’ve got to pick one, two and three.”
Another aspect the county health director believes might play a factor in the area’s health is perspective, or outlook. The Escambia community, he explained, tends to view itself negatively when it comes to health.
“We do not think of ourselves as a healthy community, we need to change that,” Lanza said. “We need to think of ourselves in a different way, sort of a paradigm shift.”
The health department director pointed to several locales in Colorado that are considered examples of healthy communities. He explained that residents of those communities tended to think of themselves as healthy, and in turn they tended to strive to keep themselves in a healthy condition—they exercise, pay attention to their diet and seek out appropriate medical care.
“We need to have a culture change, we need to think of ourselves as a culture that wants to have good health,” Lanza said. “That’s something that’s not going to happen over night, it’s going to take a couple of generations.”