If the Mono County Community Health Assessment is anything to go by, the County may be facing severe public health issues.
At the regular meeting of the Mono County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday in Bridgeport, Mono County Public Health Director Sandra Pearce outlined a comprehensive picture of current public health conditions that featured some surprising, if not outright shocking, information.
The Health Assessment focused on four aspects of public health that the community and stakeholders had identified as important health concerns: substance abuse, behavioral health, clinical care, and dental care.
The California Healthy Kids Survey revealed that while rates for tobacco and alcohol/drug use were below state averages for the Eastern Sierra Unified School District (ESUSD), 27% of Mammoth Unified School District (MUSD) eleventh graders had currently use electronic cigarettes, almost triple the state average. This rate of usage appears concerning, especially in light of recent deaths and illnesses nationwide linked to the usage of vapes (for related story, see James’s story on p. 11)
In terms of alcohol and drug usage, 33% of MUSD ninth graders and 41% of MUSD eleventh graders report “ current use. State rates for each group are around 20% for ninth graders and 30% for eleventh graders.
By comparison, ESUSD ninth graders reported 0% usage and eleventh graders reported 17% usage, both well below state rates.
The news from ESUSD isn’t all roses. The information related to behavioral health, especially the numbers from the schools, illustrate an alarming trend in mental health within both ESUSD and MUSD. Graphics revealed that by the time students in ESUSD reach eleventh grade, 57% report experiencing or having experienced chronic sadness or hopelessness in the past year; in MUSD, that number sits at 42%, both of which exceed the state average.
In addition, 42% ESUSD eleventh graders reported that they “seriously considered suicide,” a rate that clocks in at nearly triple the state average.
Supervisor Stump expressed concern that Bishop students who live in Mono County may not be included in the data presented, stating that it’s a “big piece that could provide direction … I don’t want to see them missed,” said Stump.
Stump later reiterated his support for “regional approaches that serve populations across the county line,” noting that “A county line is just a line.” Pearce informed him that such an effort was already in motion as “we’re all impacted by the same events and rely on each other heavily”.
Pearce reported the “most Important health concern identified for both adults and children was mental health” and the presentation cited a number of barriers to accessing mental health care, which included stigma and lack of mental health providers in the area.
Shelby Stockdale took over the podium from Pearce to discuss dental health issues in the area, noting that “ in Mono County, there are a total of 6 dentists, 5 are in Mammoth Lakes and 1 in Coleville.” That equates to one dental provider for every 2,020 residents. Also of note: only two of these providers accept MediCal insurance. One of those providers, Mammoth Hospital Family Dental Clinic, reported an average wait time of 2-3 months for scheduling an adult exam whereas a child’s exam took 1-2 weeks to schedule.
The presentation highlighted a keen need for improving children’s dental healthcare, as a First 5 Mono County report revealed that only 20% of Mono County children between the ages of zero and five had more than one visit to the dentist in the course of a year. Pair that with info that 18% of oral health checks for kindergartners reveal the incidence of cavities, up from 5% the prior year.
How about some good news. We’re all depressed for longer these days. The average life expectancy for Mono County citizens is higher than both the state average and the national average. No explanation was provided.
It must be the news coverage.
A key component in tackling these issues, stressed by both the supervisors and the presenters, related to understanding how language and cultural background impact overall community health.
Feedback from a group of individuals representing a variety of government bodies and local advocacy groups, identified individuals with “poor health literacy or limited English proficiency” as facing the greatest challenges in terms of becoming and staying healthy, with several stressing the need for more language translators.
The underlying concern of these entities was that “the Hispanic population of Mono County is underserved and underrepresented in the community”.
Supervisor John Peters voiced similar concerns, stating “We’ve got to figure out a better way” and suggesting that “If we could identify a couple of representatives of the underrepresented populations and get the info into that population, we could really bridge the gap”.
Director of Mono County Beahvioral Health Robin Roberts pointed to a “lack of good translation and/or good providers at the hospital who speak Spanish or who are bilingual/bi-cultural”, noting that “we’ve done an exceptional job hiring and training people who are bilingual and bicultural in the community and I don’t think the hospital has done the same”.
A series of workshops focusing on each of the key concerns outlined in the assessment are to be held this coming week at Mammoth Hospital, attended by stakeholders and community representatives.