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One man's plight highlights health care gap between Ontario's rich and poor

A homeless man sits with his dog on a street in Montreal on Dec. 2, 2008. THE CANADIAN PRESS IMAGES/Graham Hughes.

“I felt like I was a parasite,” said Claude Lurette, reflecting on his life 25 years ago. “Whoever I came across, I would just take and take and take, because I had nothing to give back. I had nothing.”

Lurette was struggling with an undiagnosed case of bipolar disorder at the time, and addiction. He was panhandling on the streets of Ottawa, not sure where his next meal would come from. Or more importantly, his next high.

“I had one friend left,” said Lurette. “And she said she didn’t want me to talk to her anymore, she didn’t want me to call her, because I was sucking the life out of her.”

Two hours later, Lurette almost committed suicide.

“There was an intervention,” Lurette explained. “But I was actually hanging off the balcony of my apartment, ready to jump.”

The next day was the start of Lurette’s recovery. He went to the Royal Ottawa Hospital (now the Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre) and got started on a bumpy road to health and sobriety.

Now, Lurette’s life has changed drastically. He’s become a mental health advocate and sits on the board for the Ottawa Branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association. He’s also the co-chair of the Central Canada Depression Hub and is a team leader for the Canadian Depression Research and Innovation Network.

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But before that, he says financial instability had a negative impact on his recovery from addiction, and his struggle with bipolar disorder.

“I would have been more social,” said Lurette, who couldn’t afford a bus fare at the time. “I would have been able to get out more, socialize more, join more activities.”

Important steps for people who – living with a mental illness – have a tendency to isolate themselves, Lurette said.

“I would have bought healthier foods, I think that would have made a big difference. I did notice that when I was eating healthier I was honestly feeling a lot better. Not only physically, but mentally as well.”

Lurette is one of many people who was living off a low income, and whose health suffered because of it.

A new Health Equity Report released today by Health Quality Ontario examines the relationship between a person’s income and their health, as well as the the health care they can access and their health outcomes.

Claude Lurette

“There was an intervention. But I was actually hanging off the balcony of my apartment, ready to jump.”

– Claude Lurette

According to the report, the poorer a person is, the more likely they are to live a shorter life. It also says people who are poor are more likely to be overdue for screening tests, and suffer from multiple chronic conditions.

“Poor people in Ontario pay for their lower income with their health,” said Dr. Joshua Tepper, president and CEO of Health Quality Ontario. “Our report aims to break down the barriers to better quality health care and improved outcomes.”

These are just a few of the gaps the report highlights:

1. The poorest one-fifth of people in Ontario are nearly twice as likely as the richest one-fifth of people to have two or more chronic conditions like diabetes or a mental illness.

2. Ninety per cent of the richest people have prescription medication insurance, compared to 60 per cent of the poorest people in Ontario.

3. People living in the poorest urban neighbourhoods in Ontario are less likely to recieve recommended screening tests, which are considered part of high-quality primary care.

4. Men living in the poorest neighbourhoods in Ontario die – on average – more than four years earlier than the richest men. Women in the poorest neighbourhoods in the province die an average of two years earlier than women in the richest areas.

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