Health partnership delivers county reports

Benny Westcott

The Partnership for Community Health, which includes health departments from Linn, Benton and Lincoln counties, outlined health-related area statistics and sought community input during a meeting May 17 at the Jim Riggs Community Center in Sweet Home.

Benton County Health Department epidemiologist Johnna Peters, who oversaw the session, reported that Linn County had lower primary-care physician and dentist rates than the state’s 2020 levels: 10 primary-care providers to Oregon’s 16 per 10,000 people, and 4 dentists per 10,000 to the state’s six.

Additionally, 14 regional service areas, including Sweet Home and Lebanon, had five fewer mental-health care providers per 10,000 in 2021. None existed in Alsea, Blodgett, Monroe and Scio, she said.

On the plus side, she continued, only 7% of county residents lacked health insurance coverage in 2021, below the state’s 9% figure.

Peters also spoke to matters concerning regional access to healthy, affordable food. She said that 1 in 8 area residents experienced food insecurity in 2020, a higher rate than in the state. That same year, 1 in five 5 Linn County residents used Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits.

Only 2 of 10 people lived within a half-mile of a grocery store in 2019, lower than the region’s 3.5 per 10. Limited transportation options and distance reduced access to nutritious food, the report noted.

The report also outlined regional mental health and suicide data.

More than 1 in 5 county residents were diagnosed with depression in 2020, it reported, adding that mental health in adolescents and children has worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

One-fourth of Linn County’s eighth graders reported bullying incidents in 2019, with 2 of 5 11th-graders experiencing sadness or hopelessness on a near-daily basis for two weeks that year. Peters noted that mental health had a significant impact on overall health and was influenced by emotional, psychological and social factors.

The percentage of 11th-graders in the region who reported misusing prescription drugs was higher than the state’s 2019 average. Some 1 in 5 11th-graders reported using alcohol in 2019, and 1 in 4 11th-graders reported using e-cigarettes that same year.

The suicide rate in Linn County in 2020 was 16 people per 100,000, more than the 12 per 100,000 recorded in Benton but just half of the 32 per 100,000 in Lincoln. Its drug-overdose death count was twice that of Benton’s in 2019, with 18 deaths, and higher than Lincoln’s 13.

The report also examined homelessness, finding 277 such individuals in Linn County in 2019. The percentage of K-12 students in the county experiencing similar straits was 5% in 2019-20, with homelessness in terms of youth defined as lack of a fixed place of residence or a supervising parent or guardian.

Community Health Committee member Dick Knowles expressed doubts about that figure.

“When I met with the [Sweet Home] school district, nobody believes 5%,” he said. “It’s 8%, 10%, 12% easy.”

Peters agreed.

“We’ve had some feedback that the Oregon Department of Education may not be able to count all of the individuals,” she said.

According to the report, half of all rented households in the region experienced a housing burden in 2020, defined as paying more than 30% of its income on rent or mortgage, insurance and utilities, while one-quarter of owned households faced the same burden.

Ethnicities with the highest regional poverty rate in 2020 were Asians at 32%, followed by Black/African-American (25%), American Indian and Alaska native (20%), Hispanic/Latino (19%), white (14%) and native Hawaiian and other Pacific Islanders (11%). About 1 in 5 people living in poverty had a disability between 2016 and 2020, a rate commensurate with the state.

The report also analyzed issues surrounding pregnancy. Prenatal tobacco use averages one of every six county pregnancies, compared to one in 10 pregnancies in Benton. Use among individuals between 18 and 19 years old was higher in the region than in the state between 2011 and 2020.

Noting that teen pregnancy and childbearing have long-term social and economic costs on teen parents and their children, the report revealed that Linn County had higher teen (15-19 years old) pregnancy rates per 1,000 pregnancies than the state experienced in 2020, with 15 per 1,000 compared to 14 for the state. Benton County had only 5 per 1,000.