A Tale of Two Counties

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Catron County’s health council shows what dedication and community outreach can do with limited resources. While Socorro County healthcare resources may find inspiration from Catron, the two counties are very different.

At a recent Magdalena Village Council meeting, Socorro General Hospital Community-based Programs Director Beth Beers praised the health council for its active role in healthcare in Catron County. She said their council is active, well-organized, plans plenty of activities and receives much volunteer help.

“They’ve always impressed me with how organized they are and how they have a handle on the needs of their community,” Beers said.

There is no hospital in Catron County — the county seat and largest population center, Reserve, has a health clinic with two part-time physicians as of 2008. The closest sources of emergency or specialized healthcare are Socorro General Hospital to the east and the Gila Regional Medical Center in Silver City to the south. The only full-time mental health service in the county is the DWI Prevention Coordinator, also in Reserve. In spite of this, the 2009 Catron County Community Health Profile reported county residents were generally healthy.

Comparatively, the situation in Socorro County looks less healthy. The recent Socorro County Needs Assessment showed 30 percent of Socorro County residents are uninsured compared to around 20 percent of Catron County residents. There are around as many uninsured residents of Socorro County as there are residents of Catron.

Both the Socorro needs assessment and the Catron health profile agreed poverty is a problem and a barrier to healthcare. While 26.8 percent of Socorro residents are below the poverty line, only 15.3 percent of Catron residents live in poverty. Although the average Catron resident makes only around $3,000 per year more than the average Socorro resident — $20,895 and $17,801 respectively according to 2010 census data — the wealth disparity in Socorro is much higher. Alamo is a key example of this. Census data marks Alamo as the 35th poorest place in the nation, with a per capita income of $4,039 per year.

But comparing the overall health of citizens in both counties is difficult; the Socorro needs assessment went very in-depth with its surveying efforts, whereas the Catron health profile was compiled from census statistics. With Catron County’s total population of around 3,700, it’s harder to establish trends in healthcare needs. A single teen suicide made Catron County’s teen suicide rate 3.6 times the state average for the 2000-05 period.

Socorro’s much larger population of around 17,800 means more people have to have a particular need or problem for a trend to emerge. When trends do emerge, it takes more effort to meet a need or address a problem. It’s harder to make a noticeable impact.

The Catron health profile makes one final point: “Residents of Catron County are generally a healthy group, in part because those with chronic health conditions and those who require specialty medical services cannot safely live here.”

Still, Beers said the needs assessment provides important primary data which resources in Socorro can use to better work on healthcare needs throughout the county.

Beers will be presenting the results of the needs assessment to the Board of County Commissioners at its 6 p.m. meeting on Tuesday, July 24.