This chart is from the “Minority Health Assessment Report” released by the Sullivan County Public Health Services.
Report: Our health is bad
By Dan Hust
SULLIVAN COUNTY April 19, 2013 Three just-released surveys on Sullivan County’s public health sheds new light on the struggle to remain healthy in an economically depressed region especially for minorities.
“I knew a lot of it would look like this,” acknowledged Public Health Nursing Director Carol Ryan, “but some of it was worse than I thought.”
Using a Rural Minority Health grant, Public Health Services contracted with a consulting firm to create a profile of county health, specifically minority health.
The consultant, Holleran, also conducted focus groups with local health providers, while a graduate school intern with the NYS Department of Health conducted focus groups with minority residents.
statistics: health tied to economics
The profile of the county’s public health used 2010 U.S. Census data, showing that nearly 17 percent of Sullivan County residents live below the poverty level, with a median household income in the county of $48,000.
A survey found that 11 percent of residents couldn’t access healthcare when they needed it, primarily due to a lack of insurance.
The majority of the chronically uninsured have gone without health insurance for more than a decade.
Twenty-one percent of women and 13.5 percent of men reported cost as a barrier to seeing a doctor.
About eight out of every 10 people in the county who are eligible for Medicaid or other social services receive benefits.
A local’s average life expectancy is 75 years, which is in line with national statistics. But more than 17 percent of adults in the county reported “fair” or “poor” health in a 2009 survey, the highest in the region.
More men than women die of heart disease the leading killer in the county while more women than men die of chronic lower respiratory disease the third leading killer.
Infant mortality is higher in Sullivan than the statewide average, as is adult obesity. In fact, about a third of the county’s population is either overweight or obese.
Groups speak up
Two series of focus groups one with healthcare providers and one with minority groups indicated a lack of specialized, accessible care.
Minorities reported difficulty communicating with local providers, and those providers agreed they are at a disadvantage due to cultural and language differences.
“A mix of undocumented workers and a large sectarian community creates cultural barriers and trust issues that keep these populations from seeking assistance and healthcare when they need it,” the report concluded.
Providers and those accessing care felt transportation, government policies, poverty and racism created additional obstacles.
What’s to be done?
Ryan said the report has highlighted the need for knowledge, for awareness something in which she and her office are engaged in spreading.
“We’re reaching out to physicians’ and dentists’ offices to see if they would be willing to take cultural competency courses,” she offered by way of example.
But some barriers are beyond her staff’s ability to overcome lack of good-paying jobs in the area, lack of affordable health insurance, lack of cheap, nutritious food.
“I see this as an economic disparity,” Ryan explained, noting it’s a nationwide problem, not just in Sullivan County. “I believe people need to get paid more in order to be healthier.”
In the meantime, Ryan said Public Health is conducting wellness efforts with residents, offering guidance to doctors on narcotics prescriptions, and using studies like these to raise awareness with those who can help.
“People need to pay attention,” she stated. “What I can do is be a voice.”