Rogers death was a turning point

TheSudburyStar.com – news
August 10, 2011.   By Carol Mulligan, The Sudbury Star

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The death 10 years ago Tuesday of a pregnant Sudbury woman under house arrest for welfare fraud marked a turning point for the Sudbury & District Health Unit.

The drug overdose death of Kimberly Rogers, 40, who was eight months pregnant, resulted in province-wide debate, a coroner’s inquest and a new direction for the health unit, says Stephanie Lefebvre, manager of health equity for the unit.

Medical officer of health Dr. Penny Sutcliffe testified at the 2002 inquest, said Lefebvre, addressing the inadequacies of social assistance rates to fund a healthy diet and other issues relating to welfare.

About that time, the health unit began to focus on the link between the social and economic health of a community and the physical health of its citizens, said Lefebvre.

That focus has translated into a community initiative the health unit will launch Sept. 13, but which is already being tested with a YouTube video.

The video, titled Let’s Start a Conversation About Health … and Not Talk About Health Care, has been “purposely released” to members of the public health sector networks, said Lefebvre.

The five-minute video presents facts and figures about the higher than provincial and national averages of chronic disease and other illnesses in the North.

It reminds viewers that 61% of the population served by the health unit is overweight or obese; 17% suffer from high blood pressure; and the rate of cancer is 9% higher than the provincial average.

Health unit staff members involved in production of the video say those higher than average rates of smoking, stress and poor nutrition do con-tribute to those statistics.

But the health unit wants to raise awareness about the fact that not everyone in Sudbury and the northeast has equal opportunity for health, said Lefebvre.

“Poverty equals bad health,” it says in the video. Every “rung up” on the social and income ladders improves one’s health opportunities.

Lefebvre was reluctant to explain the specifics of the health unit campaign, which will be launched Sept. 13.

But the campaign will focus on the fact that decisions we all make in our everyday lives contribute to the overall health of our community.

Lefebvre said a broad audience of decision-makers and ordinary citizens will be invited to the September launch, to be held at the Rainbow Centre.

The campaign will explain that while the personal health choices we make and the health care we receive affect our health, so do broader issues such as employment and education levels.

The video focuses on a woman named ‘Nadia,’ who loses her job with a mining supply company, cannot find employment and lives in substandard housing.

Her health declines, sending her to the hospital emergency department, and it is not just because of the decisions she has made.

A person’s social and economic status “play a significant, if not the most significant” role in predicting how healthy — or ill — we are or will become, said Lefebvre.

The release of the campaign in mid-September, about three weeks before the Oct. 6 provincial election, is coincidence, said Lefebvre. But the information in the video may offer residents food for thought when questioning candidates in the election campaign.

In recent years, the Sudbury & District Board of Health, the board that runs the health unit, has been vocal on issues such as the healthy food supplement, an additional sum that was given to some social assistance recipients with special health needs. The supplement has been disp>Social assistance rates don’t provide families with enough money to purchase nutritious food based on the health unit’s Nutritious Food Basket, which is published every year.

The inquest into Kimberly Rogers’ death produced a number of recommendations, only some of which have been acted upon by government.

The inquest made it clear what an “immediate and devastating” effect government policies and regulations can have on individuals, said Lefebvre.

The inquest panel ruled that Rogers died from an overdose of antidepressant medication while serving six months under house arrest for defrauding the welfare system of $49,000.

Rogers received social assistance while attending college and receiving student loans to study social work.

Rogers isn’t mentioned in the YouTube video, or in the campaign, said Lefebvre, but her case did prompt a new direction and spirit of advocacy at the health unit.

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