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The coronavirus pandemic has impacted parts of the city more severely than others, and a recent health assessment of Long Beach conducted before the pandemic began may hold clues as to why.

The 2019 Community Health Needs Assessment is conducted every three years as a requirement of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and California Senate Bill 697. A collection of organizations, including the Long Beach Health and Human Services Department, MemorialCare, Dignity Health and Long Beach Forward collected the data for the most recent assessment.

“The health disparities that existed in Long Beach prior to the pandemic certainly have made this public-health crisis worse,” Christine Petit, executive director of Long Beach Forward, said in an email. “And [it] shines a light on the inaction of government and key institutions in addressing the impacts of past and ongoing discrimination.”

The 90808 ZIP code in suburban East Long Beach has the highest life expectancy rate and the lowest amount of COVID-19 cases in the city.

The report highlights that this community was strong enough health-wise to withstand something like the coronavirus pandemic while other regions of the city were not. Those in the 90813 ZIP code live an average of 74.2 years—the city’s lowest life expectancy—and nearly 35% live in poverty. Neighborhoods here also report the highest number of COVID-19 infections, according to the city.

Chronic illness

As coronavirus continues to spread and lead to more deaths, it’s become increasingly common that in some cases, those who have died had some sort of preexisting health condition. Officials don’t publicly provide details as to what exactly the health condition may have been because of patient privacy laws.

The 2019 health report showed that some of the greater health issues for Long Beach revolved around preventable chronic diseases such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease and stroke—health conditions that the Centers for Disease and Control has found to increase COVID-19 complications and the chances of death.

Long Beach Forward conducted focus-group interviews with residents in February and March last year to collect data for the report. A total of 91 participants throughout six focus groups participated.

According to the group’s findings, residents noted links between high stress, as early as in their childhoods, and the development of chronic disease.

“When we talk about chronic illness, it’s important to look at the whole picture––the stressors of living in unhealthy and unstable housing and feeling unsafe in one’s home or neighborhood contribute to high stress and chronic illness,” Petit said.

A map view of the Long Beach Memorialcare service area ZIP Codes. Darker shades of blue signify higher levels of socioeconomic need.

In Long Beach, 10.3% of adults have been diagnosed with diabetes. This is higher than the county rate––9.9%––and the state rate––8.8%––of adults diagnosed with diabetes, the study found.

The areas of North and West Long Beach had the highest amount of individuals with diabetes. According to the report, 15.5% of adults living in the 90810 ZIP code, the area that runs along the western flank of the 710 Freeway, live with diabetes—the highest in Long Beach. The lowest percentage was in the 90803 ZIP code, which is near Seal Beach.

Residents in Central and North Long Beach were also more likely to end up in the emergency room for congestive heart failure. About 109 cases of those living in the northern part of town visited the ER for congestive heart failure treatment.

While some areas were doing worse, Kelly Colopy, director of the city’s Health Department, said the city fared better in some areas.

The Long Beach Community Health Assessment dashboard showed that expecting mothers received more maternal care in their first trimester than the state’s average. In Long Beach, 25% of adults are obese compared to the state’s 29.6% rate.

“Some of our communities are doing very well, health-wise,” Colopy said, “and others not so much.”

What is being done

Following the 2019 health report, the Long Beach Medical Center Board of Directors approved a set of guidelines last fall that would provide direction as to how the report’s findings would be addressed.

When it came to chronic illnesses, the plan was to provide exercise classes for individuals living with those health conditions as well as host health fairs and provide preventive screenings, however, the outbreak of COVID-19 has rendered public gatherings virtually unsafe.

Colopy said health officials have begun working within impacted communities to provide education for a healthy lifestyle. She said a partnership program with local markets called the Healthy Market Partnership allows families to receive healthier foods.

The pandemic has prevented health workers from knocking on doors and meet with families face-to-face, however, she said food drives and giveaways have been a helpful resource to provide families with supplies.

The recent protests around systematic racism and injustices have also forced city officials to rethink how state and federal funds are dispersed within underserved communities. In Long Beach, officials recently passed the Black Healthy Equity initiative with the goal to provide resources to those impacted communities.

“The relationships that we’re building during this covid time will extend past it,” Colopy said,” to allow stronger infrastructure in the community to be able to address those health conditions.”