EDITORIAL: Health and race divide York County

York Dispatch

"We have some work to do in York County."

That's the conclusion Dr. Matthew Howie of the York City Bureau of Health came to after a study showed a disparity in health outcomes for people of different races in York County.

According to the annual County Health Rankings Report, York County is doing pretty well. We ranked 19 out of Pennsylvania's 67 counties for health outcomes and 13 for health factors.

WellSpan Hospital. Bill Kalina/photo

But a closer look shows that there are systemic problems that have divided York County in two: the larger, thriving white population and the population of African-Americans and Latinos who are struggling.

The division starts at birth. Overall, York County's teen birth rate is 24 births per 1,000 young women ages 15-19, but among black teens, that rate is 42, and among Hispanics, it jumps even higher to 59. White teens have only 19 births per 1,000 females. Only 7 percent of white babies have a low birth weight, but that jumps to 9 percent of Hispanic infants and 14 percent of black infants.

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The trend continues: Infant mortality is six deaths within one year per 1,000 births, but among Hispanics that rate is nine, and among blacks it's 14. Child mortality is 50 deaths per 100,000 children under 18, but for both black and Hispanic children, the rate is 80 deaths.

Overall, 14 percent of children in York County live in poverty, but among African-American children 34 percent live in poverty, and the poverty rate for Hispanic children is 38 percent.

Perhaps the greatest disparity is in income. In York County, white households have a median income of $62,300, which is the median income for the county. But black households have a median income of $42,800, and Hispanic families get by on a median of $32,200.

Dr. Matthew Howie, of the York City Bureau of Health, who oversees the York Regional Opiate Collaborative, looks on as speakers discuss the "Warm Handoff" program, which gets overdose survivors from the emergency room directly into treatment for addiction, in the Medical Education Pavilion at York Hospital in York City, Tuesday, March 28, 2017. Dawn J. Sagert photo

It's hard to say that there are direct correlations between income, poverty, race and health, according to Howie, but WellSpan is taking a deeper look into the issue.

WellSpan is using its electronic health records on each of its patients to help pinpoint specific health factors to improve for individual populations, according to Kevin Alvarnaz, WellSpan's director of community health and wellness.

These factors include family stability, access to transportation, educational attainment, language barriers, distrust of the medical establishment, social integration, access to healthy foods and living in safe communities.

That's a good start. But Howie pointed out that, while access to health care is important, there's a lot that happens outside the doctor's office that has a great effect on health, from access to exercise facilities and healthy foods to environmental issues and violence.

To grow a healthier community, health professionals must take a holistic look at both individuals and communities, delving into the daily lives of patients to increase the likelihood that a teen won't become pregnant, that babies are born at a healthy weight, that children have a chance to grow up, that adults eat healthy foods and get proper exercise.

The 84 percent of York County's population that is white is doing well. This group has only 330 premature deaths per 100,000 population, lower than rate for the state. But for Hispanics, that bumps up to 350 deaths, and for blacks, it takes a huge leap to 470.

The division between white and black in York County continues. The whole community needs to come together to see what can be done to make sure that all residents of York County live healthy, productive, long lives.