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Promise me he won’t die here,” my patient’s daughter begged me. In her eyes was a fear born of familiarity: She’d seen too many of her family and neighbors die in a hospital. Just last year, her mother was admitted to the intensive care unit and never left. Now her 70-year-old father, whom I’ll call Ray, was in the same place, lying in a bed with his eyes unfocused and his speech confused. Ray would die here, and I could do nothing to stop that from happening. His life was never mine to save. It had been lost much earlier to the destructive grind of the impoverished, embattled neighborhood where he lived.

Ray lived in East Harlem, N.Y., for a half-century. During that time he saw his neighborhood deteriorate under pressure of failed public policies. Super block public housing isolated poor neighbors — almost all of them black and Latino — from the richer, whiter city around them. The political clout of wealthier neighborhoods unwilling to host drug treatment facilities turned East Harlem into New York City’s methadone capital. Violent crime increased. For decades, Ray couldn’t find work — or safety. Over time, he grew isolated, eating meals of cheap takeout on his couch while watching TV. The salty food and inactivity left him with diabetes, swollen limbs, and ultimately heart failure.

His neighborhood helped create the conditions that killed him, and they continue to take their toll on the children and grandchildren Ray left behind.

… Read More

Image: By Bohemian Baltimore – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=34537349

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