Are Kingman's health concerns misplaced?

Brian Turney

Brian Turney

KINGMAN - According to Mohave County's first community health survey, most residents rated substance abuse as the No. 1 health problem in the county - but statistics suggest that may not be the case.

Twenty-one percent of the 1,756 residents who filled out the survey rated drug addiction as the "most important health problem" in their community. Alcoholism followed in second place with nearly 12 percent and aging problems came in third with nearly 11 percent. But according to statistics cited in the report, the leading killer of Mohave County residents in 2011 was cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease includes heart attacks and strokes and is the leading cause of death worldwide.

"It was interesting that some of our most chronic health problems and leading causes of premature death in the community (heart disease, cancer, and lung disease) were not considered high-priority health problems by survey respondents," said Kingman Regional Medical Center CEO Brian Turney. "Most surprising is that smoking, which is a primary cause of these conditions and epidemic in our community, did not rank very high as a problem health behavior. Instead, respondents felt that drug and alcohol abuse are more important community health concerns."

The online survey is part of a larger report, the Community Health Profile for Mohave County, Arizona, that was compiled by KRMC and the Mohave County Department of Public Health. The idea was to identify the county's biggest health problems by gathering state and federal statistics and information from healthcare providers and the public.

The report was released to the public on July 10 and is available online at the Mohave County Department of Public Health's website at www.mohavecounty.us and at KRMC's website, www.azkrmc.com. The information from the report will be used to create a plan to improve the health of the county, which should be finished by the beginning of 2014. The county will repeat the process every three years to keep up with the changing needs of the community.

According to the report, approximately 402 people in every 100,000 people in Mohave County died in 2011 from cardiovascular disease. Mohave County has a population of more than 200,000. That same year, drugs caused around 27 deaths and 15 deaths were caused by alcohol.

Only 5 percent of survey takers listed cardiovascular diseases as one of the most important health problems in their community.

Cardiovascular disease is linked to poor diet, not enough exercise and smoking. According to the report, 80 percent of Mohave County residents over the age of 18 in 2009 reported they didn't eat five servings of fruits and vegetables a day, 26 percent said they weren't very active in the last month and 28 percent reported they were obese.

Mohave County does have a serious substance abuse problem. According to a 2010 needs assessment paid for by the Mohave Substance Treatment, Education and Prevention Partnership, Mohave County has one of the highest rates of substance abuse in the state, especially when it comes to methamphetamine.

According to that study, the county had more per capita meth-related arrests between 2006 and 2008 than any other county in the state. During those same two years, Mohave County also had the highest percentage of alcohol-related crashes in the state and the Kingman Police Department also reported an increase in substance abuse by students.

The Community Health Profile lists the second leading cause of death for Mohave County residents in 2011 as cancer, with more than 300 people in every 100,000 residents dying from various types of the disease.

The third leading cause of death in the county, with around 100 people in every 100,000 residents, was due to chronic lower respiratory disease, which includes chronic bronchitis, emphysema, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

"The death rate from COPD in Mohave County is alarmingly high and most certainly attributed to the large number of smokers in the community," the report states.

According to the report, in 2010, 28 percent of Mohave County residents over the age of 18 in Mohave County reported that they smoked. That same year, 18 percent of Arizona residents and 19 percent of Americans reported they smoked.

"Another interesting result is that the majority of survey respondents ranked their own health as 'healthy' but ranked the health of the community as 'unhealthy,'" Turney said.

Fifty-nine percent of the people who took the survey rated their personal health as "healthy." But, 53 percent of that same group rated the general health of their community as "somewhat unhealthy."

Good jobs were the best way to improve the health of the community according to 14 percent of the survey takers. Eleven percent said better access to quality health care would help.

Those sentiments were reflected in some of the comments respondents wrote on their surveys. Many of the comments were truly heart-wrenching, Turney said.

"With no insurance, I often go to the ER for treatment I can't pay for," wrote one survey taker.

"(I) can't afford co-pays for proper medicine, so I've had to use hand-me-downs from other people that (is) usually not the dosage given by the doctor," said another survey taker.

"Family member has (multiple sclerosis. I) have applied several times for disability for her and been denied. She can't afford her medication/treatment. (The Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System) only covers her kids. She uses the emergency room for herself," a third survey respondent wrote.

According to the report, the lack of access to preventative care and health insurance is directly related to the county's high hospitalization rates, death rates from preventable diseases, cancer death rates, serious dental problems and high rates of premature deaths. The lack of primary care physicians and public transportation in a huge rural county only add to the problem.

There are too many people in Mohave County who are suffering and unable to get the help they need, Turney said. The community's problems are very complex and solutions will take the entire community working together, he said, which is why KRMC and the Mohave County Department of Health have formed a community health coalition to prioritize and address the issues.

For more information, call Patty Mead, the director of the Mohave County Department of Public Health, at (928) 753-0774 or Jamie Taylor, the Kingman Regional Medical Center Director of Public Relations, at (928) 757-0664.

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