Seattle isn't always the enlightened city it's supposed to be. A case in point, according to a report released March 3 by the Northwest Federation of Community Organizations, is the economic and racial divide that exists in the city's health profile and its citizens' access to hospital care.
The report, entitled "Equal Treatment? Seattle Hospitals Put to the Test," is based on Public Health data and a survey of 200 residents in lower-income areas of Seattle, along with 77 phone calls and 24 visits made to six hospitals by "site testers." The results point to striking differences between those who live in Seattle's south and north ends.
In lower-income Southeast Seattle, for instance, where there are more people of color, more infants under the age of 1 die each year -- an average of six per 1,000 births compared with less than one in largely white, middle-class North Seattle. The Southeast residents also have twice the number of asthma hospitalizations, the report says, and a five-year shorter life expectancy at age 50.
In seeking hospital care, Southeast residents, in particular, have further to go -- 7.2 miles to the nearest hospital versus one mile for a north-end resident -- and, if they don't have insurance or speak English, their only real choice is the county's public hospital, Harborview Medical Center, which provides the trained interpreters required by federal law, along with the lion's share of Seattle's charity and Medicaid care for the poor. Virginia Mason Medical Center rated the lowest in charity care, providing less than 1 percent of its gross revenue in charity care compared with 12.6 percent for Harborview.
Swedish rated high for providing interpreters and financial assistance forms in Spanish, but when one site tester called the hospital's Cherry Hill campus in Spanish, the receptionist hung up -- a common occurrence, the report says, along with being put on hold endlessly.