Marin County’s track record of being one of the healthiest counties in California is intact, according to new statistics, but several significant issues remain for those who deliver health care and other wellness services.
Dr. Matthew Willis, the County's Public Health Officer, says known problems with substance use were one contributor to Marin receiving the No. 2 ranking rather than No. 1.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation released its annual rankings of California’s 58 counties, and Marin came in at No. 2 this year behind San Mateo County. Marin had been ranked No. 1 in statewide health for seven consecutive years. The County Health Rankings data give a glimpse of a community’s health and provide a starting point for investigating and prioritizing ways to improve health.
“As the safety net for our community, our goal is to create a safe and healthy community for all our residents,” said Board of Supervisors President Judy Arnold. “We have a lot to be proud of, but major challenges remain in the areas of income inequality, affordable housing, binge drinking, and prescription drug abuse.”
Marin retained the top spot statewide in overall health factors such as education, employment, family and social support, and community safety.
Dr. Matthew Willis, the County’s Public Health Officer, said one contributor to the change in ranking is known problems with substance use.
“Compared to other counties, we lose points for having higher rates of adult binge drinking, drunk driving deaths, and drug overdose rates,” Willis said. “This is another sign that these are issues we need to take seriously.”
Marin experienced a spike in accidental drug overdoses from 2012 to 2014, the time period reflected in the latest rankings for that category. In response, the County helped create a grassroots initiative called RxSafe Marin in 2014 to tackle prescription drug abuse. The Marin County Department of Health and Human Services and several other County departments are involved and shepherding positive change.
“We've made some progress since 2014, and we’re losing fewer people to overdoses, but we have long way to go,” Willis said.
Marin was worse than the state average in income inequality and still experiences a large division between the top and bottom ends of the income spectrum. Marin consistently shows a low rate of children in poverty (9 percent), but social inequity came to light as the foundation broke down the statistics by race for the first time. Thirty percent of African-American children and 24 percent of Hispanic children experience poverty compared with 4 percent of white children.
As a countermeasure, the County has made steady progress on many fronts with social equity, and the Board of Supervisors made equity a priority in its 2016 State of the County message. It is working to preserve existing affordable housing, helping underserved residents visit and enjoy parks and open spaces, and making its annual County Fair one of the healthiest of its kind in the country, and improving access for disabled visitors at County-maintained pathways, park trails and buildings.
“Our scores did not change dramatically from last year,” Willis said. “San Mateo has made substantial progress and that’s good news. No one is backsliding here: San Mateo is raising the bar and it’s up to us to meet the challenge.”