The Community Services Administration has plans to establish a new community outreach program, judging by a presentation made to the Board of Alders on Monday night.
Martha Okafor, the city’s community service administrator, said she hoped to inaugurate a new era for the CSA by working closely with the board. Generally, the administration is responsible for the well-being of the New Haven community. Through this program, she said, Elm City residents can expect improvements in public health initiatives. Though no specific initiatives were outlined, the meeting was designed to outline current problems the city faces.
“I felt that it is important to work together,” she said. “The community is really what you [Alders] are expert in, and we want to work with you to help your constituents and their well-being.”
Okafor said that because the alders know their constituencies better than anyone else, the CSA values their input as they work to create the best outcomes for the city.
The CSA consists of four departments — the Health Department, Elderly Services, Youth Services and State-Administered General Assistance. Okafor’s presentation, attended by the majority of the caucus but not Ward 1 Alder Sarah Eidelson — who represents most Yale students — focused on the idea of community involvement and cohesiveness.
“The mayor has challenged all of you to look at how we create intentional community,” Okafor said.
Amanda Durante SPH ’01, an epidemiologist with the New Haven Health Department, copresented with Okafor and said that the outreach initiatives would focus on five aspects of public health in New Haven: low birth weight, smoking, accidents, asthma and chronic diseases.
Low birth weights are a serious problem in New Haven, Durante said, especially among the city’s African-American population, in which 16 percent of births are below 5 pounds, 8 ounces, which is considered to be underweight. Meanwhile, the rate is roughly 9 percent for the city’s white and Hispanic populations.
“If we don’t address premature birth at the beginning, we will have problems at the end,” Okafor said. Many medical experts have cited premature birth as one of the causes of low birth weight and underweight children.
Durante provided maps showing that Newhallville and Edgewood, two predominantly African-American neighborhoods, and Fair Haven, a largely Hispanic neighborhood, have the highest incidence of low birth rates. As a result, the program’s resources will focus on those areas in its early stages.
Smoking is another, more widespread problem, Okafor said, adding that it is much more prevalent in the African-American and Hispanic populations than the white population.
“We decided to look at smoking because smoking is linked to heart disease and premature death, and also to cancer,” Okafor said.
Durante’s statistics for New Haven showed that nearly 1,200 people died of smoking related causes in the Elm City from 2002 to 2011, a figure that audibly shocked many alders.
Fatal accidents constitute about 9 percent of deaths in New Haven, said Durante, noting that homicides, suicides and drug overdoses are included in that figure. Like low birth weights, deaths by accidents, especially by homicides, are concentrated in the African-American community.
In the portion on chronic diseases, Durante focused on the issue of obesity. Considering children in New Haven are, on average, above the recommended levels of obesity set by the federal government, Okafor added that the administration must devote significant attention to the issue.
The alders largely responded to the proposals positively. But Adam Marchand, the alder for Ward 25 in Westville, voiced some doubts regarding the plans, specifically the step program — a series of steps Okafor included to achieve ultimate goal of community outreach and enhanced public health initiatives, which include outreach, consultation, involvement, collaboration and shared partnership.
“This step program — that’s hard to do,” he said. “There’s a limit to expenditures — this is a big undertaking, and we have to be sober in our attitudes to this.”
He raised the possibility that the large amount of data presented during the meeting could be useful in prioritizing which areas to focus on as they design the community outreach program.
Nevertheless, Okafor remained optimistic about the future of the project.
“We are going to do this with youth services; we are going to do this with other areas,” she said, vowing that the CSA would work with the alders throughout the process.
The Board of Alders’ next meeting will take place on Oct. 20.