By Mary Alice Murphy

To a sparse audience on Oct. 6, 2022, the Grant County Community Health Council hosted a data session with Joshua Whaley, who gathered the data and created the PowerPoint® presentation.

Phoebe Schroeder of the Center for Health Innovations facilitated the session. Whaley attended remotely.

Schroeder said House Bill 137 has provided funding for developing a comprehensive community-based plan around community health improvement.

She said the first engagement was with those who have boots on the ground in the health care realm.

The statewide New Mexico Health Improvement Plan would be developed by communities. It would be updated regularly and provide reporting to counties and municipalities.

"We are now at the partnership and collaboration phase," Whaley said. "All of us should have a seat at the table. The state will give us a more detailed plan."

On demographics, Whaley said 49 percent of the population in Grant County is over the age of 65 or younger than 15, with most of them in the over 65 group. Half the county is Hispanic and half white. Poverty is common among the elderly with an increase of poverty at 10 percent over 2015 statistics.

"We want the plan to provide consistency," he said. "Programs work."

He noted the teen birthrate has been dropping, but firearm deaths "are all over the place."

Food security is an issue, with most people not getting their five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Grant County is consistent with New Mexico for adults, but youths are doing worse in Grant County than in the state as a whole. He said the Grant County is a food desert, with five grocery stores in the whole county, with four in Silver City and one in Bayard. They all accept WIC (Women, infants and children) vouchers. For the rest of the county, "it is not so good."

Other statistics included obesity, with 8 in 10 adults being obese and the rate among youths at 35.4 percent. The rate of diabetes among residents of Grant County is usually about 8% or 9%, although it goes up and down.

Whaley said overdose deaths are concerningly high, with alcohol-related deaths trending higher. He described suicide as a "death of despair."

Tobacco use in youths stands at about 40 percent and in adults at about 24 percent. He said the current drinking level of adults is reasonable, but 4 in 10 youths is disturbing.

Mental health issues are at 10 percent, but Whaley expects that to go higher once the data from the pandemic period is received. "Almost half are kids, which is concerning."

Valerie Kling, co-chairwoman of the Health Council, noted that youth drinking is on the rise, as of 2019.

"What are the top five concerns?" Kling asked.

Whaley said poverty is a real issue and is the root of a lot of the other problems. "It is the root of diabetes, obesity and depression." He noted that federal funding for the lunch program has stopped.

Kling said she found tobacco use statistics alarming. "What are the main causes of substance abuse?"

Whaley said a lot of substance abuse has to do with mental health as a cause. "Addressing mental health issues would bend the curve."

Karen Kennedy, who attended online, asked if Whaley had been able to isolate data from the pandemic period. And she said: "I thought the state had agreed to continue the school lunch program."

Whaley said she could be right on the lunch program, but he had not received much data from the pandemic period.

Marilyn Alcorn of the Grant County Community Health Council commented on the Grant County 17 percent vacant housing. "Is that by choice, because it is just for visitors, perhaps?"

Whaley said that was the percentage of housing vacant in 2020.

"But we have a housing shortage," Alcorn said.

Whaley said the vacancies seemed to be in rural areas.

Alcorn asked where the data came from. "I would like to see if there are ways to rehabilitate these vacant buildings."

Whaley said the data came from the Census Bureau.

Evangeline Zamora, co-chair of the Health Council asked for an explanation of the poverty rates in those over 65.

Whaley said the poverty rate among the elderly is about 8 percent consistently over the years. "The youth rate going up is alarming."

Schroeder asked why the poverty rates are going up.

Whaley said it was hard to say. "Is it because those of reproductive age are finding it hard to find jobs? There could be several reasons. The thing to remember is that adult poverty is by the household, so there may be one, two or three kids and more per household."

Schroeder said the next data session, a second one with the same information, would take place, Oct. 13, 2022.

Zamora asked what the next steps in the planning would be.

Schroeder said the state wants more collaboration with the community. "Once we get more people involved, we will move to personalization. We also need to have prioritization."

Alcorn said the group needs to have the community "tell us what their needs are."

Schroeder agreed on the need for qualitative and quantitative data. "We need more data, and we need tangible input from the community."

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