According to a Pew survey, 61% of Americans are getting health information online. The internet is now the third leading resource for health information after doctors and family/friends. At a recent session hosted by USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, I learned this and many other things while chatting with journalists and other bloggers. It turns out (and I don’t have the data in my hands yet) that some of the “sub-trends” are pretty interesting. For example, moms and other women seem to prefer facebook to other social networking sites. I’ve noticed this anecdotally as I’ve been fielding dozens of flu questions on my own facebook page, most from moms in my community.
And in some of these interactions, I’ve found an interesting phenomenon. If you’re not familiar with the Detroit area, you still may have heard of 8 Mile Road. This is the northern border of Detroit, and has for years also served as a racial and economic border. While Detroit does have a relatively vibrant downtown area, it isn’t like similar size cities; there isn’t the huge influx of commuters to the city center and back every day. There is a terrific venue for the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, one of the countries best baseball stadiums, Ford Field, where the Lions lose, and Joe Louis Arena, where the Red Wings win. There are also just under a million people ringing this reasonably attractive downtown in a geographical area that was, a few decades ago, home to almost 2 million people. Today, Detroiters, with their unemployment rate of nearly 30%, bravely try to hold a community together in a place where abandoned homes and reclaimed urban prairies seem more common than jobs.
And the 8 Mile divide has become even firmer. As people with jobs—at first mostly white, and now black as well–have fled Detroit, poverty has concentrated below 8 Mile, and fear and suspicion cross the border more often than people. This makes what I’ve learned on facebook so surprising.
Distribution of swine flu shots has been a disaster in the U.S. There seems to be little attempt to get the so-far scarce vaccines into the highest-risk populations first. Encouraging though has been the fact that demand is high, despite anti-vaccine propaganda. In the mostly white, affluent suburbs of Detroit. it has been nearly impossible to get flu shots for high-risk people. County-wide clinics have been held in stadiums and other large venues, with people waiting in the cold for hours. There has been, as far as I can tell, no real attempt to reach those at highest risk first. Hospitals and clinics have struggled to get enough vaccine to cover their front-line staff.
But apparently, there’s some vaccine south of 8 Mile. On facebook I learned that some public health clinics in Detroit have 20-30 minute waits and are open daily, instead of the 4 hour waits waits in the suburbs at venues announced sometimes a day or two ahead of time. Normally fearful suburbanites are crossing 8 Mile and waiting in line with local residents for their shots, and are coming back north happy and immunized.
I don’t know what this means. Is our public health system reaching Detroit residents? Are suburbanites competing for a scarce local resource, or simply taking advantage of surplus? Will this have any lasting effect on the willingness of people to go to the city?
I don’t know the answer, but to anyone familiar with Detroit, this is a pretty remarkable phenomenon. For decades, mostly white suburbanites have fought to avoid regionalization of services such as transit and schools. But what about public health? Is this an foot in the door to start to bring Detroiters and suburbanites back together? Or is it just another example of the relatively privileged robbing the poor of scarce resources?