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United Regional study reveals serious challenges for Wichita County

Wichita County faces significant challenges to the health and well-being of its residents due to shortages in key areas compared to the rest of Texas, according to a study conducted for the United Regional Health Care System.

As part of the Affordable Care Act, tax-exempt hospitals like United Regional are required to complete a community health needs assessment every three years.

The latest study, presented in October 2022, found that “When you analyze the economic state, Wichita County is in greater economic trouble than other counties in the state.” The county’s “hardship index” was 83, which is extremely high.

The study also revealed that compared to the rest of the state the county has low household incomes, high rates of families and children living below the poverty line, high rates of food insecurity, poor access to food, too few grocery stores and low education rates.

It concluded that the county has higher death rates than Texas as a whole from heart disease, malignancies, chronic lower respiratory disease, cerebrovascular disease, accidents, diabetes mellitus, chronic liver disease and cirrhosis, suicide, breast cancer , prostate cancer, lung and bronchial cancer, and colon and rectal cancer.

According to the study, Wichita County has higher rates than the state of chronic conditions such as diabetes for adults and Medicare beneficiaries, obesity, arthritis and hypertension for adults and Medicare beneficiaries.

Wichita County has higher percentages of residents who participate in unhealthy lifestyle behaviors such as binge drinking and smoking.

The county also has higher prevalence rates of communicable diseases such as gonorrhea and higher teen birth rates than the state.

Wichita County is designated as a medically underserved area as defined by the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA). The data collected in the study suggests that some residents face significant cost barriers when accessing the health system.

People interviewed for the study expressed concern that Wichita Falls’ federally qualified health center, the Community Health Care Center, is no longer accepting new patients and the county has significant transportation barriers to getting to and from medical appointments and food pantries.

The study projected negative population growth in Wichita County through 2026, with the county projected to lose approximately 767 residents by that point.

The trends identified in the 2022 study largely mirror those identified in the 2019 study. Exceptions include heart disease becoming the leading cause of death rather than cancer, and an improvement in health risk behaviors from the 241st worst county to 167a (out of 244 counties). The number of Alzheimer’s-related deaths was significantly lower than the statewide figures in the last study.

To address the issues, the study suggested the hospital focus on these areas:

  • Continue to place emphasis on addressing the social determinants of health to reduce health inequalities
  • Prevention, education and awareness of services to address high mortality rates, chronic diseases, preventable conditions and unhealthy lifestyles
  • Access to primary and specialist care services and providers
  • Continued focus on emergency preparedness and response
  • Access to mental and behavioral health care services and providers

The study was conducted for United Regional by Community Hospital Consulting, a Plano consulting firm. Findings are based on state and federal information sources, as well as local interviews of individuals in the health care or social services fields. Data reflect sources ranging from 2018 to 2022.

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