Alum-run DataHaven puts the health of Connecticut in sharp focus
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a daily onslaught of unsettling numbers and charts related to infection numbers, hospitalizations, and death rates. But Mark Abraham ’04 B.A., executive director of DataHaven, said sometimes focusing on positive outcomes can be even more effective in driving public action.
Several weeks ago, DataHaven — a New Haven-based nonprofit that collects, interprets, and shares data to improve quality of life in Connecticut — released an estimate of how many lives in the state could be saved over the course of the pandemic through one month of social distancing, which began in earnest in late March: 10,000. With 60 days of social distancing, the group estimated that 16,000 lives would be saved.
This potential of simply keeping apart to save lives was picked up by numerous local news outlets, including the Hartford Courant, WFSB, and NBC Connecticut.
“Health departments are struggling with communicating the importance of social distancing,” said Abraham, who majored in architecture at Yale and, before joining DataHaven, worked as a planner for the New York City 2012 Summer Olympic Games Bid Committee and as a W.K. Kellogg Foundation fellow focused on racial equity. “But it is doing a lot to prevent the severity of COVID-19.”
Using data to improve public health outcomes is at the core of DataHaven’s mission. The organization —founded in the mid-1990s with a focus on producing information that would help improve infant and child health in New Haven — has since expanded its scope statewide. Today, the six-member team works with a host of community health organizations, government offices, nonprofits, and hospitals, to provide a nuanced understanding of the economic, social, and health challenges facing specific cities and towns. Abraham and team produce reports for partners on topics such as civic health, early childhood education, and the impact of immigration.
Central to DataHaven’s efforts is its triennial Community Wellbeing Survey. Last administered in 2018, the survey of 15,000 state residents of every Connecticut town and city yields insights into key aspects of social and economic wellbeing. Respondents are asked about health, family economic security, individual happiness, civic engagement, transportation, and community life, among other measures.
Data from the most recent survey have helped health officials assess possible ramifications of COVID-19 by identifying which individuals and neighborhoods are most vulnerable due to, for example, poor healthcare access, housing insecurity, or lack of healthy food options, said Camille Seaberry ’08 B.S., a senior research associate with the group.
“We have survey data that shows which people are less likely to go to the doctor and who has skipped their medications,” said Seaberry, who studied physics at Yale and joined DataHaven in 2016, driven by an interest in its effort to address inequities. “One of our questions is ‘Could you and your family stay afloat if you lost all your income?’ For many, they could last just one to two months. These inequities are magnified by the crisis.”
DataHaven has over 120 government, academic, health care, and community partners for its Community Wellbeing Survey, including Yale New Haven Hospital and the City of New Haven, and these individual partners use the data to guide policies and intervention strategies, to underscore city council and state legislature testimonials, and to provide in-depth looks at specific communities when seeking grants.
In February, the Yale Repertory Theatre used information from DataHaven to provide local context about redlining — the denial of housing and mortgages to members of black communities — for a teacher’s workshop paired with the Rep’s production of “A Raisin in the Sun.” Their community data have also been used to drive reports on housing segregation in Greater New Haven, on the status of women and girls in eastern Connecticut, and on neighborhood income and race and poverty inequality.
In addition to broad surveys, DataHaven produces state-wide reports on specific health concerns, such as opioid abuse and related deaths. Amid the pandemic, the group is studying issues related to housing and technology access, aiming to better understand where people are in danger of losing homes and who lacks access to connect remotely with schools and doctors. For many people, Abraham said, technology is now the only connection with healthcare providers and schools.
“In Connecticut, our cities and towns are small and fragmented,” he said. “We’re one of the few places that provides that richness and granularity of data.”