Folded inside this week’s El Paso Inc., you will find our 2020 medical and health special section. And tucked inside that, on page 12, is a bit of good health news worth highlighting.
An annual study, which looks at health outcomes, health behaviors, clinical care, socio-economic and many other factors, ranked El Paso County 56th out of 244 counties in Texas for its health outcomes.
It’s an improvement over 2019 when El Paso was ranked 111th in the measure, which looks at length of life and quality of life.
“That is a pretty significant jump,” says Justin Rivas, an associate researcher with the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program.
Funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, the program compares the health of nearly all counties in the United States to others within its own state.
The improvement in the quality of life measure in El Paso County is especially noteworthy, Rivas said. That measure looks at people’s own self-perception of how well they are living. On that specific measure, El Paso was ranked 229 in last year’s report and 194 this year. While that still puts the county toward the bottom of the list, the trend is in the right direction.
The data not only describe current health but provide insight into future health, measuring factors like rates of smoking, alcohol and teen pregnancy, as well as diet and exercise, access to health care, education, employment and safety – things that can be modified to improve the length and quality of life.
“Health factors help you understand the context of what tomorrow’s health could look like,” Rivas says.
In those measures, overall, El Paso’s ranking improved from 229 in 2019 to 194 in 2020. However, digging a little deeper into the data, it appears that may be as much a result of other Texas counties performing more poorly as El Paso making significant improvements.
It’s certainly not all good news, and El Paso still lags the state in many areas. Some areas in need of improvement: the prevalence of obesity, sexually transmitted infections and teen births, as well as the high numbers of uninsured, children in poverty, income inequality and low graduation rates, both high school and college.
The disparities are even more striking among El Paso’s Hispanic and African American populations. For example, 32% of Hispanic children live in poverty while 14% of white children do. The good news is the county has moved the needle, and the overall number of El Pasoans living in poverty is declining, from 37% in 2002 to 29% in 2018.
You can find the county health rankings by going to CountyHealthRankings.org and searching “El Paso.” The nonprofit has also published guides for how communities can take action to improve health.
One thing that has held El Paso back is a lack of high-quality data. The region’s borders, boundaries and jurisdictions – and all the comings and goings of people and goods across those lines – make it hard to pull data together, and the region’s isolation means it too often gets left out in state and national reports.
Without good data, it’s hard to identify problems and address them. It also makes doing business more difficult.
But Rivas mentioned he has a colleague at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who is working on a project that is finding ways to better craft data measures in the 44 counties along the U.S.-Mexico border. It’s not ready for prime time yet, but the effort is ongoing.
With our family spending more time at home during the pandemic, we decided to try fostering dogs – and are glad we did. We have had what appears to be a Bichon Frise mix (who looks like a lamb) for about a week and a Chihuahua mix (who has smoky eyes, giving him a Captain Jack Sparrow look) for a few days. They are getting along fine with our aging miniature dachshund who is too sleepy to be anything but a little grumpy about the whole arrangement.
If the nonprofit we volunteered with is any indication, there appear to be plenty of animals in need of foster homes and adoption. If you’re interested, there are many shelters and rescues in El Paso you can find online. They provide all the supplies necessary and ensure each animal receives necessary medical care and vaccinations. You can also specify what animals you feel comfortable fostering.
We hear stays can be as short as two weeks or as long as two months. The hardest part I’m sure will be saying goodbye.