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Clark County housing problems seen as drag on public health

Updated March 19, 2019 - 5:31 pm

About one-fifth of Clark County residents face severe housing problems, including high costs and overcrowding, that adversely affect their health, according to an annual report published Tuesday.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings and Roadmaps report ranked Clark County eighth of 14 Nevada counties and Carson City for overall health (Esmeralda and Eureka counties weren’t ranked). Along with housing issues, inadequate access to preventative services and high rates of uninsured residents, obesity and smoking among adults remain areas of concern in Clark County.

The report highlighted the percentage of college-educated residents and the rates of injury-related deaths and physical inactivity as areas of strength among Clark County residents, though the county trailed top performers nationwide in each metric.

Justin Rivas with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, which collaborated with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on the report, said the findings in the report largely mirror those of previous years.

“A lot of the trends, just looking a couple years back, were similar,” he said.

Nationwide and in Nevada, Rivas and a team of researchers found access to stable housing was a driving force in overall community health. One in 10 households nationwide are burdened by high housing costs, compared to 16 percent in Nevada, Rivas said.

“That means that families in those households spend more than 50 percent of their income on either their rent or their mortgage,” he said.

In a presentation Tuesday at the Southern Nevada Health District, chief medical officer Dr. Joseph Iser implored population health professionals to use the data to connect over shared health concerns.

“Can you think of any stakeholders that you need to share this information with?” Iser asked the crowd. His presentation was followed by remarks from other health district officials and commentary from Rep. Susie Lee, D-Nev.

“I think what all of us should be worried about is this health equity piece,” Iser said in an interview after the event. “So where you live is a greater determinant of how long you’ll live and what access to care you’ll have and how well you’ll live, more than your ethnicity or other factors.”

Iser said he has worked with state Sen. Julia Ratti, D-Sparks, on a bill which would address housing concerns. Another bill, Assembly Bill 97, which would appropriate $15 million in state general funds to address any health issues officials decide to fund, including housing insecurity.

“If we can get that funding that gives us the capability of working on these broader public health issues,” Iser said.

The state Department of Health and Human Services Division of Health Care Policy and Financing, which administers the state Medicaid program, is also looking into ways to tackle homelessness as a public health issue.

Through what’s called a “1915i” plan, Medicaid could, with permission from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, reimburse social services providers for connecting the homeless with housing and ensuring that they understand their tenancy rights.

It’s the state’s hope that by using federal and state funds to pay for wrap-around services linked to homelessness — Medicaid can’t pay for rent or a mortgage directly, for example — community organizations could use money they would have spent on social work to instead pay for some housing costs.

“There have been studies that have shown that providing supportive housing services … has been shown to reduce overall medical utilization,” like inpatient care and emergency department use, both high-cost services, said Medicaid administrator Suzanne Bierman.

Contact Jessie Bekker at jbekker@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4563. Follow @jessiebekks on Twitter.

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