This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.
The results are in for Pierce County’s annual heath exam, and there’s no diplomatic way to put this: We’re in bad shape.
Of Washington’s 39 counties, Pierce ranked 26th and fared worse on almost every health metric in comparison to state and national results. This is according to the annual County Health Rankings by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin.
Pierce rated worse than the other urban-suburban Puget Sound counties, far behind King (ranked sixth), Thurston (ninth) and Kitsap (15th). We fare more poorly than both the state and national measurements in such categories as rates for low-birth-weight babies, adult smoking and obesity, sexually transmitted diseases, teen births, higher education, violent crime and access to healthy food.
Compared to state and national results, we have more premature deaths and more poor physical and mental health days. More of us are unemployed, and we have more children in single-parent households – a key risk factor for poverty and a host of other problems.
About the only category Pierce County excels in is access to fast-food restaurants: 50 percent of us have access, compared to 46 percent statewide and 27 percent nationally. It’s a dubious achievement that – combined with less access to healthy food – could be playing into our higher obesity rate.
So what’s the takeaway here? Unfortunately, it’s not a good one. The results show the need for more public health outreach to low-income and underserved populations at a time when budget cuts probably will mean less will be done. For instance, nearly half of the county’s 12 walk-in family support centers face possible closure due to cuts in Medicaid administrative matching funds.
The hope is that as the Affordable Care Act goes into effect and Medicaid coverage expands, access to health-care providers will increase. But one of the other metrics casts a shadow on that in Pierce County, where the ratio of patients to primary care physicians (1,446 to 1) is already higher than the state average (1,222 to 1) and national (1,067 to 1).
Awareness of the problem is key to addressing it. This annual checkup shows that Pierce County has a lot of room for improvement.