Health & Wellness
The conversation about health has shifted toward an examination of chronic diseases such as heart disease, obesity, asthma, and diabetes. The reason for this shift is that public health practitioners have recognized and research has proven that behaviors and conditions associated with diseases are linked to social factors such as where people are born, grow, live, work and age. These are called social determinants. In fact, health outcomes can be predicted based on zip code. In many areas, negative health outcomes are often amplified by limited access to preventative services, mental and physical care and community-based interventions.
Illness & Prevention
Pierce County generally experiences higher rates of health risk behaviors (tobacco use, alcohol abuse, physical inactivity, risky sexual behavior, unhealthy dietary habits, non-adherence to medication) and health risk conditions (pollution, violence, abuse, etc.) than the state average. These choices and conditions place residents at higher risk for chronic disease like asthma and heart disease. Education and income are also key factors linked to health access. At 10.3%, Pierce County has higher unemployment rates than both the state and national averages. In Pierce County, people making more than $75,000 are much more likely to live to an age of 77 years compared to those making less than $25,000 who are likely to live until they are 70.
The cost of care is a barrier, 33% of Pierce County adults with less than a high school education report they cannot access health care because of the cost. Based on access and cost, low income residents are forced to make choices such as foregoing preventative care like breast cancer screenings and annual dental visits.
Physical & Mental Care
Pierce County has 12 hospitals, but the geographic distribution of those and other healthcare facilities is concentrated in urban areas. This means, as in most areas, that rural populations are underserved and often experience difficulty in accessing healthcare. In fact, access to mental health care, including treatment for substance abuse, is even more challenging. Pierce County indicators show the highest area of concern for residents is the need for alcohol treatment; however, statistics show individuals are not receiving the care they need. Even more troubling is the evidence showing Washington State ranking near the lowest in the nation in terms of inpatient psychiatric capacity. Overall Washington ranks 48th out of 50 states when looking at the prevalence of mental health problems compared to access to care. Pierce County ranks at the bottom of all urban counties in Washington State with 2.8 mental health beds per 100,000 residents.
By investing in social determinants of health and dedicating more resources toward improving our homes, schools, workplaces, neighborhoods and communities, we are enhancing our social and economic opportunities, which are tied directly to health outcomes. In a 2013 Health Assessment Survey done by the Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department, participants provided feedback that residents face racial disparities, language barriers, unemployment, and poverty and these issues cause barriers to accessing health care.
Ultimately, we know that taking care of ourselves by eating well and staying fit, not smoking, getting recommended preventative care, and seeing a doctor when we are sick all influence our overall health; but our environmental conditions are just as influential.
Data provided in the inforgraphic comes from the Pierce County Health Department’s 2013 Health Assessment Survey.
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