Homelessness and lack of affordable housing for young families in the Tri-Cities ranked among the top health issues identified in the recently completed community health needs assessment for Benton and Franklin counties.
Other main concerns were access to health care, as some people wait months for a doctor’s appointment, and mental health and addictions.
The assessment developed by the Benton Franklin Health District and other health agencies will serve as a focus for addressing health needs in both counties over the next three to five years.
Housing: expensive and scarce
The population in the Tri-Cities area is growing rapidly, but available housing is not keeping pace, especially for people with low and moderate incomes, according to the assessment.
At the same time, housing costs are rising, with the rate of growth in household income in the region accounting for about a third of the rate of growth in rents.
“I’m sitting there and I think when a young family, they’re both working but not making huge salaries and they might have a kid or two, I don’t know how they’re going to be able to buy a house or even , in many situations, rent,” said an anonymous person quoted in the study.
The study gathered information through a survey, interviews, and community forums for a variety of observations from professionals, people working with nonprofit organizations, and the public, including people with unmet needs.
“If we’re trying to attract the younger workforce to our community, there are definitely challenges with that,” one person said. “When we look at many hospitality workers, especially people who haven’t moved into management positions, the incomes they earn, housing becomes a challenge.”
People are willing to pay above-market rent, which means landlords are able to charge high prices for apartments, respondents said.
Landlords are raising rent by $400 or $600 a month, causing them to spend less on other needs and, in some cases, contributing to overcrowding as families double in apartments, they said.
One in five households that rent pay more than half of their income in rent, according to the assessment.
Apartment vacancy rates are low, driving competition for rentals and excluding people with poor credit or criminal histories from the rental market, respondents said.
Young people often need a co-signer to rent an apartment, which is not the case for all young people. Rising housing costs can also be difficult for older people, the study found.
Homeless: Exceeding WA State
The homeless rate in the Tri-Cities has consistently exceeded the state rate since 2016, according to the assessment.
And people are homeless longer than in the past.
In 2016, 39 days were typical and this rose to 82 in 2019, according to the assessment.
The Homeless Management Information System lists nearly 4,000 residents of the greater Tri-Cities area as homeless, with their numbers increasing as the number across the state declines, according to the ‘Evaluation.
Homeless people include not only people who live on the streets or camp in tents, but also people who live in cars and other vehicles, moving them from place to place, and people who move from house to house of friends and family to sleep on sofas.
“Homelessness is a symptom,” said one person who commented on the assessment. “It’s a symptom of issues that have arisen, probably over time, that we really need to continue to focus on, in my view, on the upstream side, which is mental health, substance use disorders , Healthcare.”
Major medical needs can lead to bankruptcy and loss of housing, the person said.
More services are needed for the homeless, including hygiene services for students and “street care” for the homeless, said people sharing information on the homeless issue.
Access to health care
The Health Resources & Services Administration has designated Benton and Franklin counties as an area with a shortage of health care providers.
In Washington State, each primary care physician or other provider has an average of 1,180 potential patients. But that rises to 1,430 potential patients in Benton County and 4,720 in Franklin County, with patients often crossing county lines for treatment.
Wait times for an appointment can be long and provider turnover is too high, respondents for the evaluation said.
Having more primary care providers and specialists would reduce wait times and help reduce pressure on emergency departments, according to the assessment.
But recruiting healthcare professionals to move to the Tri-Cities area can be difficult, especially with the high cost of living, according to the assessment cited by healthcare agencies.
The local healthcare system is particularly difficult for people who do not speak English well or who have a disability.
Transport is a problem, both for people who live in rural areas and for people with reduced mobility, including the elderly.
People who are on Medicaid or don’t have health insurance have even more limited options.
Additionally, continuity of care is lacking for veterans, people with developmental disabilities may be unable to find providers trained in their needs, and LGBTQ youth struggle to find respectful care and not feel judged by healthcare providers, respondents said.
Telehealth options with online appointments have increased, but may not be suitable for many people, including those who do not speak English, as well as those who do not have access to or are unfamiliar with technology; and the elderly and others with hearing or visual impairments.
Access to health care is only part of the solution to overall health access, according to the assessment.
The Tri-Cities area also needs increased access to nutritious food, transportation, licensed and affordable child care, health education, chronic disease prevention and more high awareness of available resources, according to assessment.
Mental health services
Mental health was overwhelmingly identified as the most pressing community need, by those providing community feedback for the assessment.
More mental health treatment services, and in particular services for people in crisis and inpatient services for children, are needed, they said.
Mental health workforce turnover is high, with burnout and low wages in entry-level jobs contributing.
The COVID-19 pandemic has increased mental health needs and contributed to family stress and a lack of social connections for older people, said those commenting on the need for more mental health services.
The Tri-Cities area also lacks addiction treatment options, but there is hope that the proposed recovery center for mental health and addiction issues that Benton and Franklin counties plan to locate in two Kennewick locations will help.
Work on solutions
“People are doing amazing things to improve the health of our community,” said Kirk Williamson, program director of the Benton Franklin Community Health Alliance. “Our challenge is to find where their energy and passion intersect and to help find ways to bring even more partners to the table.”
Agencies that collaborated on the assessment, including Benton Franklin Health District, Benton Franklin Community Health Alliance, Prosser Memorial Health, and Kadlec Regional Medical Center in Richland.
The assessment found that Benton and Franklin counties are fortunate to have strong community coalitions and committees working to support community health as well as businesses that support the promotion of Tri-area health and social initiatives. Cities.
Coordinating efforts with shared goals and outcomes has the potential to improve health in the Tri-Cities, according to the assessment.
This story was originally published on November 7, 2022 at 11:16 a.m.
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