The Devil is in the Details
Luna County, in far southwestern New Mexico, is one of the poorest counties in one of the poorest states in the nation.
There, the median household income is 30% less than the comparable statewide number. And the number of Luna County residents with heart disease is much higher than the state average: 294 people per 100,000 die of heart disease, compared to New Mexico’s average of 185 per 100,000.
The picture is much different in Santa Fe County, where the median household income is 21 % above the state average, and 158 people per 100,000 die of heart disease.
These pronounced disparities are revealed in the 2019 New Mexico County Health Report cards, an annual snapshot that compiles health data for all 33 of our state’s counties.
The sixth edition of the County Health Report Cards was released earlier this year by UNM’s Office for Community Health (OCH). It includes demographic and socioeconomic data, population health indicators, county health council priorities, health workforce data, UNM Health Sciences Center (HSC) activities, and patient care services provided by UNM Hospital for each county.
“The purpose of the County Health Report Cards is to highlight both the positive things that are happening to impact health in counties around the state and identify hotspots that need attention,” says Molly Bleecker, MA, a senior research scientist in the OCH.
While the Health Report Cards do not provide analysis of the data presented, they can be used to discern differences across counties relating to the health of their residents, such as access to health care providers and such social determinants of health as levels of education, poverty and racial or ethnic discrimination.
In general, Bleecker says, “Counties whose populations experience disproportionately more adverse social determinants of health are more likely to experience poorer health outcomes.”
The County Health Report Cards have been compiled almost every year since 2008. They were the brainchild of Arthur Kaufman, MD, UNM’s Vice Chancellor for Community Health. According to Kaufman, the Report Cards reflect the HSC’s vision statement, which states, “Working with community partners, UNM HSC will help New Mexico make more progress in health and health equity than any other state.”
According to Bleecker, the data are drawn from multiple sources. Demographic and socioeconomic statistics are collected from publicly available data sources, like the U.S. Census Bureau and the Bureau of Labor Statistics. County-level data comes from the New Mexico Department of Health, the Secretary of State and the Public Education Department.
Health workforce data comes from the New Mexico Health Care Workforce Committee’s annual reports, while information on HSC community activities is gathered from each HSC department, and health care provision numbers are provided by UNM Hospital.
Bleecker hopes that County Health Report Cards will serve as “a call to action” for the HSC to help identify needs and channels resources.
Kaufman believes the Report Cards help drive positive outcomes. For example, the New Mexico Legislature recently passed a memorial to conduct a study addressing the transportation needs of rural veterans seeking care at health care facilities.
A Congressional delegation used the report cards to support federal funding to expand health extension across the state, Kaufman says, and the New Mexico Human Services Department drew on the data to support expansion of community health workers to serve the Medicaid population in counties throughout the state.
Overall, the County Health Report Cards have proven to be an effective and important resource for the health care community to identify needs of New Mexico counties and their residents.