Mayor G.T. Bynum has drawn attention to one of the most embarrassing statistics the city of Tulsa must face.
If you live in north Tulsa’s 74126 ZIP code, your life expectancy is 10.6 years shorter than if you live in the south side’s 74137 ZIP code.
In a recent speech to the Greenwood Chamber of Commerce, Bynum brought up the statistic and the “moral outrage” of the disparity.
Your life expectancy shouldn’t be determined by where you live in Tulsa.
To his credit, Bynum has made reducing that difference a focus of his administration and has put it in the context of 2021’s 100th anniversary of the deadly 1921 Tulsa Race Riot.
We know that public policy changes can drive that number down. They already have.
In 2002, the first time health officials studied life expectancies across the city, the differential was 13.8 years.
State, local and private funders — many first driven into the effort by the shame of the life expectancy differential — concentrated resources to increase the availability of health care in north Tulsa and focus that health care on programs that count. More than $46 million was invested in new or improved clinics and centers that offer more convenient and affordable access to north Tulsa residents.
Leading the effort were the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa, Tulsa Health Department, the George Kaiser Family Foundation, Oklahoma State University Medical Center, Morton Comprehensive Health Services, the University of Tulsa, Community Health Connections, Crossover Health Services, Hutcherson YMCA, Westview and others.
There is still much to be done. University of Tulsa President Gerard Clancy, a guiding light in the effort thus far, has turned his focus to dealing with the dearth of mental health and substance abuse treatment access, a factor that can drastically reduce life expectancy.
Bynum’s focus on community-oriented policing with an expanding Tulsa Police Department is another important step. Changing lifestyles to include more exercise, walk and outdoor play starts with making sure streets are safe places for people to use.
Traditional issues for north Tulsa — the need for jobs and retail opportunities, especially grocery stores — also are important factors in addressing the disparity.
Bynum’s decision to frame the issue within the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Riot is apropos. A little more than four years from now, the national media will turn its eyes to the city and ask the question: Where has Tulsa gone in the century since the riot? A city that still must admit that people on the historically segregated side of town still have markedly shorter lives is not ready to face that question with honor.