Ward 8's Amanda Stephenson presents her Ward Infinity affordable housing project. (Courtesy of Harry Connolly)
Ward 8's Amanda Stephenson presents her Ward Infinity affordable housing project. (Courtesy of Harry Connolly)

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A leading hospital in the District recently hosted an event lauding East End residents who proactively seek creative health solutions.

Sibley Memorial Hospital, with Johns Hopkins Medicine, held on June 27 its second annual showcase of residents who participated in the Ward Infinity program at the R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center in Ward 8. Ward Infinity serves as a community-focused initiative developed by Sibley, located in Ward 3, to strengthen local efforts related to health and wellness in the District, specifically Wards 7 and 8.

While Sibley services all District residents, it doesn’t have many patients from the east end of the city mainly because of its geographic location. Such residents largely use the United Medical Center and northwest hospitals such as Howard University Hospital, the Washington Hospital Center and the George Washington University Hospital.

In 2017, Sibley convened conversations with community leaders and residents of those areas to better understand their health challenges, priorities and socioeconomic concerns. Out of those discussions, Sibley created Ward Infinity and its community health innovators program, known as Innovators in Residence, aiming to address health equity and social determinants of health while promoting innovation, advocacy and community engagement.

The Ward Infinity Innovators program has operated since last year and this year’s group includes teams focused on such areas as health literacy, housing options and food access.

Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7), who chairs the council’s health committee, spoke highly of Ward Infinity.

“This program focuses on health conditions,” Gray said to an audience of 65. “Food access, affordable housing, health literacy makes a difference on improving people’s health conditions. People should know that only 20 percent of public health is driven by clinical cases but the other 80 percent is determined by where you live, whether you have a job and how much stress do you do deal with in your life.”

The health statistics for residents in those parts of the city are disheartening. Statistics indicate that the life expectancies of Ward 2 and Ward 3 residents are 85 and 88 years, respectively while people who live in Ward 7 can expect to live to 75 years old and in Ward 8, 72.

People who live in Ward 8 are five times more likely to have diabetes than residents of Ward 3, studies show. Ward 8 also posts high numbers of people who live with heart conditions and cancer rates, according to D.C. health statistics.

Ward 8 residents Kesha Lee and Carlisha Gentles initiated “Team Health Literacy” and wants “to use technology to empower patients to navigate healthcare and connect with providers.”

“We have co-designed a technological tool that offers a symptom checker, appointment maker and nudges and prompts that will encourage the user to go to the doctor’s office,” Lee said.

The technology, in the form of an app, will be in the market stage shortly. Both Lee and Gentles made a pitch for investors for $200,000 for startup capital as well as people who are versed in the technology field for assistance.

Amanda Stephenson of Ward 8 introduced an innovative housing idea to the audience. Noting that the median listing price for a house in the District costs $579,200, Stephenson proposed using underutilized lots in the city to house relatively inexpensive, sustainable eco container co-housing that contain health equity ecosystems using recycled shipping containers.

These housing containers are fireproof and flood-proof and have gotten responses and uses in China, Amsterdam and South Africa.

“You can own a home that is safe and healthy for much less than $100,000,” Stephenson said.

Taboris Robinson, a Ward 7 resident, works with Annie Li for Team Food Access. Robinson, an urban farmer at DC Urban Greens, said that much of the East End is a food desert, or an area where quality fresh foods are difficult to access. Food deserts are predominantly in low-income, high-poverty areas such as inner cities or rural communities.

Ward 7 and 8 have a combined population of 150,000 people but only presently have three full-service grocery stores, whereas nearby Ward 6 has more than 10.

Robinson said urban farms can make provide people with the fresh fruits and vegetables that are needed without extensive traveling to a grocery store that sometimes has to be done.

“Our farms allow people to get good food inexpensively without having to travel a lot,” he said.

Tambra Stevenson, founder and CEO of WANDA: Women Advancing Nutrition, Dietetics and Agriculture, seeks to improve nutrition literacy and build cultural connections through technology. Stevenson said her organization will use interactive platforms and storytelling to attract the attention of women to talk about their health.

“We want women to open up about their health challenges,” said Stevenson, a Ward 8 resident.

James Wright photo

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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