State report underscores need to address underlying health factors | Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department

Of the 49 state legislative districts, Pierce County’s 29th and 27th—which span from Tacoma to Lakewood—ranked highest in the state for hospitalizations people could have avoided.

  • Tuesday, July 25, 2017 5:00pm
  • News

Not everyone in Pierce County has equitable opportunities for good health. The Office of Financial Management just released an inaugural report titled, Potentially Preventable Hospitalizations by Legislative District. It may show the need for more investment in changing the underlying factors that influence health.

Of the 49 state legislative districts, Pierce County’s 29th and 27th—which span from Tacoma to Lakewood—ranked highest in the state for hospitalizations people could have avoided if they had access to timely and affordable preventative and primary care services, such as regular doctor’s visits, prescription medication, and adult immunizations.

“We appreciate this new measure of health the OFM report provides, and we look forward to working on these issues with our healthcare and community partners,” said Director of Health Anthony L-T Chen, MD, MPH.

For the Health Department, the report highlights the roadblocks to opportunities for good health.

Good health starts where you live, learn, work and play.

The foundation for good health requires more than healthy behaviors and access to medical care. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, healthy behaviors and medical care each account for 20% of good health, and 5% of what makes a person healthy comes from genetics. But social, economic and environmental factors comprise more than half, 55%, of what makes people healthy. These factors include:

  • Neighborhood.
  • Income.
  • Education.
  • Ethnicity.

“Where you live in Pierce County can say a lot about your longevity,” said Chen. “The Health Department 2015 Health Equity Assessment shows neighbors who live less than a mile apart can have up to an eight-year difference in life expectancy,” he said.

Zip codes in the county with the highest life expectancy are in Elbe (98330) and Carbonado (98323) at 86 years or more. The lowest are the Lakewood/Joint Base Lewis-McChord area (98439), Tacoma’s Hilltop and Central neighborhoods (98405), and Vaughn on the Key Peninsula (98394) at 75 years.

Investing in public health provides a healthy return

Public health works upstream to prevent diseases and conditions that adversely affect health of many people through strategies with a low per-person cost. It is much less expensive to:

  • Prevent diabetes to avoid a life of chronic medications, dialysis, amputation, and blindness.
  • Reduce smoking rather than treat asthma, chronic lung disease, and cancers.
  • Boost immunization rates rather than control outbreaks and treat complications.
  • Screen and treat latent tuberculosis patients for $700 to prevent active cases that can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to treat.

“These early interventions help people lead healthier lives,” said Chen. “Healthier people are better employees and better learners. The reality of missed vaccines, for example, can mean missed school, missed work, and added burden to charity care rolls,” he said.

Learn more about health equity at A link to the Health Department 2015 Health Equity Assessment is at the bottom of that page.

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