Lead Author of Health in Hetland presents Kern County Findings at South Valley Meeting

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Lead Author of Health in Hetland presents Kern County Findings at South Valley Meeting

BAKERSEELD- lMMEDIATE to a recentFRESNOt, Health in the Hetland: The Crisis Continues, San Joaquin Valley residents experience some of the worst health conditions in the state. The same report also reveals that Kern County ranks higher than most counties in California in teen pregnancy, infant deaths, lung cancer deaths, air pollution, late prenatal care, and severe shortages of health care professionals.

Today, Joel Diringer, lead author of Health in the Heartland: The Crisis Continues, presented specific findings from his 2004 report about the dire health conditions of the San Joaquin Valley and specific findings relating to residents in Kern County, during a regional meeting held at the public health department in Bakersfield.

Approximately 30 key health professionals attended the meeting to hear Diringer’s findings and to assist health policy researchers in identifying health policy research priorities for Kern County residents.

In order to help identify these priorities, Dr. Peggy Leapley, director of the Nursing Center for Advancement of Research and Evaluation at California State University, Bakersfield, highlighted some of the leading health concerns from the Greater Bakersfield 2020 report. Bakersfield 2020 outlines specific health objectives and provides action plans designed to reach key health outcomes.

Leapley also serves on the Regional Advisory Council of the new Central Valley Health Policy Institute at California State University, Fresno. Her role involves identifying and carrying South Valley concerns, such as those outlined in the Bakersfield 2020 report, to the policy institute advisory council during its quarterly meetings.

Based on the most current studies outlined in Health in the Heartland…

• Kern County experiences the highest number of infant deaths in the entire Central California region, with 11 infant deaths per 1,000 live births. Kern County ranked 53 in terms of highest infant deaths, out of 58 California 0F126ies. The average number of infant deaths in California was seven per 1,000 live births.

• Kern County has one of the highest teenage pregnancy percentages among the state,

ranking 54th of 58 counties in California. Kern County’s rate of teen pregnancy is about

50% higher than that of the state. Kern County had 71 births per 1,000 females aged 15

19, compared to the California average of 48.

“There was a drop in teen pregnancy over the past 5 years, but the Kern County rate is still 50% higher than the State rate,” said Diringer.

• Rates for lung cancer were also high and above the average age-adjusted rate of California, with 51.2 deaths per 100,000 people in Kern County. California’s statewide percentage was 45.9 deaths.

• Kern County is ranked among the top 10 polluted counties in the nation. Residents of Kern County experience unhealthy air quality during 45% of the days.

Today’s meeting was the first of eight Valley community dissemination meetings of the Central California Health Data Information Project. The Health in the Heartland report is one of the initial outcomes of the data project and will be utilized to meet with the San Joaquin Valley communities about the region’s current health, influence policy and promote a system of change.

The Central California Health Data Information Project is funded by The California Endowment in partnership with the Central Valley Health Policy Institute at California State University, Fresno. The Central Valley Health Policy Institute is seeking community input from the regional meetings to help shape the institute’s research agenda.

Health in the Heartland was released for the first time at the third annual Central California Health Conference on Feb. 5th at the Fresno Convention Center. Diringer explained that the Valley’s health conditions are still in a state of crisis.

“Despite years of effort to improve health conditions in the San Joaquin Valley, it still lags behind the rest of California,” said Diringer.

Similar to the 1996 report of Hurting in the Heartland, Diringer’s recent report focuses on the demographics of Valley residents, economic and environmental factors, as well as health services. The report pays close attention to chronic diseases, health resources, immigrants, access to care, current health policy issues, health disparities, and health outcomes.

Over the past year, Diringer and co-authors of Health in the Heartland, Dr. Kathleen Curtis, Cheryl McKinney Paul and Danielle Deveau, studied the health conditions of the Valley’s eight counties (Fresno, Kern, Kings, Madera, Merced, San Joaquin, Stanislaus, Tulare) and the relationship among 61 community clusters in comparison to California’s health conditions as a whole.

Their report reveals that communities with poor health access are characterized by: high rates of poverty, low educational attainment, female-headed households, higher percentages of immigrants and higher percentages of non-English speaking individuals.

• In Kern County, per capita income increased 29.7% from 1990 to 2000. Even though there was an increase, Kern County still trailed behind the statewide

average increase of 38.4%.

• Kern County contains the second highest rate of migrant and seasonal farm workers in the Valley. About 10% of the state’s migrant and seasonal farm workers are from Kern County.

[Valley] residents have a harder time than do other Californians in finding care due to lack of health insurance, a scarcity of providers, and language and cultural barriers,” said Diringer.

Diringer and co-authors found that approximately 80,000 children from all over the Valley were eligible for Healthy Families or Medi-Cal but weren’t enrolled in these government-funded programs. Many of the parents of these children documented that they were fearful of jeopardizing their immigration/citizenship status, they were confused about eligibility criteria, and simply did not know about these programs.

“Full enrollment in these programs would provide improved access to care for this vulnerable population, and replace local dollars now being spent on uninsured children with state and federal funds,” said Diringer.

“Solutions exist but are not utilized,” he explained.

Health in the Heartland reveals that …

• In Shaffer and Wasco, communities within Kern County, 58.5% of the population over age 5, do not speak English as a dominant language at home.

• Such a high percentage indicates the need for medical interpreters to educate non-English speaking families about available health resources, health conditions, and preventative services.

“This project highlights some of the issues we face. Our hope is that by doing so we can bring much needed resources, innovative approaches and programs to our region. We must improve our delivery systems, first and foremost by bringing more physicians, nurses, mental health and dental health professionals to the Valley,” said Curtis.

Kern County already experiences a short supply of health providers. During 2000-2001…

• Kern County had approximately 44% fewer physicians than the California average. There were 67.4 primary care physicians per 100,000 persons in California, compared to 46.6 physicians in Kern County.

• There were 70% fewer specialists in Kern County. Statewide there were 122.2 specialists per 100,000 persons, compared to 71.5 in Kern County.

• Kern County had 32% fewer nurses than California. California had 729.9 nurses per 100,000 people, compared to 549.9 in Kern County.

• There were 93% fewer dentists in Kern County. Statewide there were 79.9 dentists per 100,000 persons, compared to 41.3 in Kern County.

• Kern County had 71% fewer licensed clinical social workers. California had 41.6 per 100,000 persons, compared to 11.2 in Kern County.

Advisory council members will use feedback from today’s meeting and seven future meetings throughout the San Joaquin Valley to establish research priorities for the Central Valley Health Policy Institute.

“[Health in the Heartland] will provide community leaders and policy makers with a comprehensive picture of health issues facing San Joaquin Valley communities and allow them to advocate for improved health for the most impacted communities,” said Diringer.

A schedule of upcoming regional dissemination meetings is now available on the web at: www. csufresno. edu/ccchhs/HPI/schedule. htm.

Hard copies of the Health in the Heartland report will be available in March 2004. The executive summary of Health in the Heartland is available in hard copy and online at: www.csufresno.edu/ccchhs/pubs. For more information on how you can obtain hard copies of the executive summary and full report of Health in the Heartland: The Crisis Continues, please contact the:

Central Valley Health Policy Institute

Attn: Cheryl Paul

2743 E. Shaw, Ste. 121

Fresno, CA 93710-8205

Tel:(559) 294-6097

Fax: (559) 291-7046