Orange County continues to find itself among the healthiest counties in the Tar Heel State.
The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently released the annual County Health Rankings, which had Orange County coming in second place in overall county health in North Carolina this year behind only Wake County.
This positive ranking is overshadowed, however, by the fact that the county has the largest income inequality for a county with more than 100,000 residents in the state.
Communications manager for the Orange County Health Department Kristin Prelipp said this distinction is nothing new for Orange County.
“I have to say, it was very similar to last years ranking, so that just means that we still have to keep talking about this, and we still need to keep working on this,” said Prelipp.
The number of children in poverty in Orange County varies widely by race, with 4 percent of white children living in poverty, 32 percent of Hispanic children and 25 percent of black children. And, according to the numbers, the vast majority of children born into poverty stay there.
“It’s estimated that 69 percent of children born into poverty will remain in poverty unless there is an intervention and/or a significant change in the system,” said Prelipp, “so that’s why we’re still talking about this.”
Prelipp said her department, under the leadership of the new health director Quintana Stewart, is taking measures to intervene.
“Our staff at the health department is attending racial equity seminars held by the Racial Equity Institute out of Greensboro. Also, other seminars organized by OAR, which is the Chapel Hill group Organizing Against Racism,” said Prelipp. “We’re also holding monthly caucus meetings within the health department; we have established a racial equity commission, and we are even bringing a contingent of staff, partners and community leaders to the Racial Equity Summit in Chicago in April.”
Prelipp said the problem is larger than Orange County and is systemic in nature.
She said she hopes that besides these efforts to alter the system that perpetuates this pattern of inequality, raising awareness of the issue will help as well.
“Orange County is a beautiful, affluent place, [but] it’s not that way for everyone,” says Prelipp. “If you drive around and get to know some of the families at your children’s school, you’ll understand that. So, just be aware.”