Pierce County ranks among the bottom for overall health when compared to other counties in the state. In a report released earlier this year, the Tacoma Pierce County Health Department concluded that the county ranks 24 out of 39 counties in the state for long-term health concerns and community health issues such as smoking, obesity, teen births, life expectancy and rates of sexually transmitted diseases. Its standing has largely not changed in recent years, but we have improved in some notable areas. Those improvements should be celebrated while we double down on curbing the trends where we continue to fall behind other areas of the state.
The report found that although the county lags behind other parts of Washington in alcohol-related driving deaths, exercise rates and unemployment, the gap is closing. Rates of high school graduation and access to exercise in the county are improving and even better than the state average. That ends the good news.
The county is worse than other areas of the state and the state average in premature deaths, preventable hospital stays, diabetes treatments, rates of sexually transmitted diseases, consumption of nutritious foods and rates of violent crime. Those health factors are decidedly solvable as society changes as well as the added use of healthcare programs. Changing these risk factors, and therefore our overall health, isn’t just a matter for government to solve since they involve personal choices, albeit less-than-advisable ones. But just knowing the numbers allows us to craft plans and programs to turn them around.
One interesting program has started to help get to the core issue of many of those issues.
CHI Franciscan Health has a program that will train 1,000 people by the end of the summer on “mental health first aid” not only as a way to help people notice the common warning signs of emerging mental health problems but also to boost our local “mental health literacy.”
About 4.5 percent of the county’s population, or 22,790 people, experienced a serious mental health issue during their lifetime while one in five suffers some form of mental health problem at some point, whether depression, addiction or some other mental malaise that can often lead to other health conditions, even homelessness that has also reached emergency status.
There is no magic pill to improve our health, but we can – and must – do better.