Health assessment presented to city

........................................................................................................................................................................................

Socorro city residents, on the whole, aren’t very healthy.

And when they aren’t feeling well, a lot of them head to the emergency room at Socorro General Hospital instead of making a doctor’s appointment.

Beth Beers, community-based programs director for Socorro General Hospital, presented the findings of the recent county health assessment to the Socorro City Council on Monday night.

As was outlined in a Chieftain’s June 9 article on the county health assessment, the committee has been building presentations specially focused for each audience. Beers’ presentation to the city council helped relate the problems that were more prevalent in the city of Socorro to the problems in the county at large.

Socorro does face a few very particular health concerns. Beers brought up the statistic that showed that the incidence of diabetes in Socorro is triple the state average, and less than 40 percent of respondents had a doctor talk to them about diabetes.

Depression in the city is double the state average, and only a third of respondents said their doctor had discussed mental health with them.

More than 27 percent of Socorro residents smoke cigarettes, which is higher than the county’s 23 percent, the state’s 19.4 percent and the country’s 18.4 percent. However, smokeless tobacco use is just under 8 percent. The county usage of smokeless tobacco is just under 10 percent.

The hospital will be focusing on improving access to care and on fighting diabetes. Community education and support from schools are the main plans for reducing the incidence of diabetes. The earlier risk factors can be identified and unhealthy behaviors can be curbed, the fewer incidences of diabetes will show up in the city and county.

Improving access is a little trickier. Poverty is an obstacle — 10 percent fewer respondents in poverty have a regular physician, according to the assessment, and 10 percent of respondents said they have not seen a doctor in the past five years.

More than 40 percent of all respondents said cost was a barrier to health care, and almost 30 percent said that a lack of insurance was a barrier to care.

Hospital Director Bo Beames said that state aid would be used to help reduce the costs of non-emergency care.

Another issue that arose is the fact that a high number of residents in the city, and especially in the county at large, use SGH’s emergency facilities for rudimentary health care, which, though more expensive, has more accessible hours.

Another problem Beames picked out is that people often have trouble getting to medical facilities during business hours, especially in outlying parts of the county where transportation becomes a greater and greater factor.

At this point, Mayor Ravi Bhasker brought up the ambulance funding situation once again. According to Socorro Fire Chief Joe Gonzales, while ambulance requests from the county at large are a relatively small percentage of calls, they take up more time than in-town calls.

Bhasker noted here that ambulance requests from Veguita were increasing steadily — more and more, residents of Veguita are looking to Socorro, not Albuquerque, for health care.

Beames affirmed the hospital’s desire to support the ambulance system, saying “transportation is an integral part of the health care system.”

In her presentation, Beers acknowledged that there are certain problems highlighted by the assessment, which the hospital would have issues dealing with. The example she brought up specifically was mental health-related issues — mainly drug abuse.

While Socorro Mental Health does its part, the lack of a local rehab facility limits long-term success of reducing the incidence of drug abuse and addiction, and lines for the state’s two rehab facilities are long.

“Is there any push to get a rehab center in Socorro, or to get some dedicated beds (in the hospital)?” Bhasker asked.

Beers said that the situation needed further discussion, and that funding for a rehab clinic was scarce. Bhasker, who is a local physician, suggested that a tax on alcohol could be levied to help fund rehab beds at the hospital.

While the temporary New Mexico Tech population was mentioned, the assessment results did not list it as a component of any major health concern on the city or county levels.

“We all have to work together,” Beames said. “We’re willing to support with resources.”