The gap between the life expectancy of babies born in Smoketown compared with those born in St. Matthews is 15 years. That statistic – from the 2014 Louisville Metro Health Equity Report – helped Dr. Charlotte Gay Stites take action.

In early 2018, the pediatrician expects to open the doors to the Smoketown Family Wellness Center, a place where families can come to improve their health and well-being.

“Most parents have a great understanding of social determinants of health and what the impact those have on the health and well-being of their child,” she said. “Very often, when people come to the pediatric office, they are interested in talking about how their kid is doing in school, how their child is fitting in with their friends. Social determinants of health are a huge piece of health and well-being. They are related to education, income, social connectivity, employment – really the nuts and bolts of people’s lives.” 

Dr. Stites said that overall health and well-being for individuals is determined by clinical care (about 20 percent), lifestyle (about 30 percent) and physical environment (about 10 percent). The remaining 40 percent is a product of those social determinants of health.

She believes her new facility, located in a historic building at Hancock and Roselane, could become a new model for healthcare, a cross between a pediatric office and a community center. Families will meet with a licensed social worker who will serve as the family’s coach and guide them in specific areas aimed at improving outcomes.

“The goal of the center is to partner with families to help them raise children to be healthy in mind, body, and spirit,” she said. “To do that, we’ll combine clinical care with healthy lifestyle and addressing social determinants of health in the same place. We can focus on primary prevention of chronic diseases that begin fundamentally in childhood and hope to impact that gap in life expectancy by starting early.”

She believes that chronic diseases and medical emergencies, such as the onset of diabetes and instances of heart attacks, have their roots in childhood. And in parts of the city like Smoketown, residents may not have access to healthy food, may not choose to exercise, and may not take advantage of educational opportunities.

“You’ll hear things like ‘Your ZIP Code is more important than your genetic code in your health and well-being,’ ” she said. “There are a lot of factors that go into those gaps. Our role is to pull all of these pieces together from the beginning of life so we can fundamentally expand the life expectancy of a child born in Smoketown by 10 years. It’s a big goal, but that’s what we’re looking for.”

As a pediatrician, she has seen that the best time to begin changing adults’ habits is just after a new family member arrives. She said it’s a “magic” time.

“Parents are willing to do things they would not have done before. Research suggests increased ability to learn after child is born, so it’s a magic window to effect change in families,” she said. “I believe that every family — no matter how old, the color of their skin, what they believe in — really fundamentally wants what’s best for their child. It’s a great opportunity to help them establish the kind of habits and routines that they want their child to have.”

If the new Smoketown Family Wellness Center succeeds, Dr. Stites hopes to open centers in other areas where residents’ well-being and life expectancy can be improved.

“This is the way we should provide care for families, to create a culture of health and well-being.”