Housing Access, Substance Abuse Impacting Health In Washoe

Mar 20, 2019

The Nevada County Health Rankings Report was recently released. Washoe County came in sixth place in the state for overall health, a jump from the previous year. KUNR’s Anh Gray reports that affordable housing, access to mental health care and substance abuse are still big issues.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute report looks at several determinants of health including health behaviors, along with social and economic factors. The recent ranking bumped Washoe up three spots from last year when the county ranked ninth. 

This year’s ranking included fifteen of the seventeen counties in the state. Kevin Dick, of the Washoe County Health District, says the study highlights that Washoe has lower levels of obesity and higher levels of physical activity than other parts of the state, but access to affordable housing is still an issue.

“Housing is an area that we scored a little bit worse than the rest of the state,” Dick explained. “This is an area that is impacting people across the country that can’t afford to maintain a roof over their heads and stable living conditions.”

Across Nevada, about one in five children live in poverty. For 53% of those children, their families spend more than half of their income on just housing. In addition to the lack of affordable housing, families living in poverty also have inadequate access to healthy food, transportation and medical care.

Substance abuse involving alcohol and drugs are an issue in the region. In Washoe, 37% of driving deaths involve alcohol-impairment, and even though the opioid epidemic has swept the nation, other illicit drugs also pose a risk to Washoe residents.

"Here in Washoe County,” Dick said, “we actually have more people that are dying of overdoses of methamphetamines than opioids."

Other health concerns include a shortage of mental health care providers. The ratio of mental health care providers to residents factors into the ranking and the overall health of the region. In Washoe, there is about one provider for every 330 people living in the county. For Nevada, it’s about one provider for every 510 residents. Youth mental health is also a concern for the state, especially with the rise in youth suicides over the last year.

“We had almost a doubling of suicides in our youth in the past year," Dick said.

The Washoe County Health District is working with community organizations on suicide prevention programs that reach seventh-grade students in the region.