Nye County health a focus as deadline extended

Nye County’s most pressing medical needs will be addressed, as officials continue to gather input from residents, a health expert said.

John Packham, director of health policy research at Office of Statewide Initiatives at the University of Nevada, Reno School of Medicine, said the Pahrump Community Health Needs Assessment is currently underway as officials received a few hundred responses.

While the deadline for submissions was originally slated for May 15, officials plan to extend it until May 31. The results are to be presented at the Desert View Hospital in July.

The findings will be combined with the most current data on local health care needs from existing data sources that was presented by Packham at the meeting in March. The data will help officials to identify health care service gaps based on an overall assessment of current health needs.

The data outlines health care challenges that Nye County faces. While some are common for rural counties in Nevada, others are specific to Nye.

Among rural health care challenges in Nevada mentioned in the presentation were lack of access to essential health care services, high rates of uninsured residents, unique transportation challenges affecting the receipt of timely care, health workforce shortages and persistent threats to the economic viability of rural hospitals.

“I think that it has higher than average indicators for help,” Packham said about Nye County. “It has indicators of poor health and chronic disease that are higher than state averages in most rural counties.”

The survey can be taken at: surveymonkey.com/r/DVHospital

Leading causes of death and behavioral risk factors

Nye County ranked higher than Nevada and the national average in several leading causes of death such as heart disease, cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and stroke, according to Packham’s presentation.

The county had 285.9 deaths caused by heart disease per 100,000 residents compared to 191.3 deaths in Nevada and 167 deaths nationally in 2014, according to the presentation.

Nye’s population was 43,423 people as of July 2016, the latest data available through the U.S. Census Bureau.

The county also topped the state of Nevada and the nation in adults that have behavioral health risk factors such as diabetes, obesity, physical inactivity and tobacco use, according to the 2013-2014 data.

“Those behaviors tend to be higher in rural than urban areas, but they are particularly high in Nye County,” Packham said.

Uninsured population

The number of uninsured people is slightly lower in Nye County than in other rural areas of the state.

Slightly more than 12 percent of the total population in Nye County was uninsured and 12 percent of people under the age of 19 were uninsured; 18.4 percent of people under the age of 65 were uninsured, the 2014 data showed.

Packham said among low-income residents under 65, one in four are uninsured in Nye County.

Meanwhile, from 2011 to 2016, the number of residents using Medicare and Medicaid in Nye County has grown.

The number of those who use Medicaid has grown by 49.3 percent from 8,106 people in 2011 to 12,105 in 2016. Medicare numbers grew by 23 percent from 12,817 people in 2011 to 15,764 in 2016.

While the Medicare number is the evidence of the population that’s growing older, the increase of Medicaid users is the result of the Affordable Health Care Act expansion in Nevada, Packham said.

“It really speaks to a health reform,” Packham said about Medicare.

Health workforce shortage

The number of physicians, dentists and nurses in Nye County is well below other rural areas of Nevada as of 2016, according to the presentation.

Packham blamed the situation on the county’s difficulty in attracting health care professionals.

“The county has a hard time attracting and keeping professionals,” he said.

Nye County often has to compete with Las Vegas for the same pool of professionals because of the geographic proximity. The difficulty in recruiting these professionals affects cost and access to health care, Packham said.

The county also performed poorly when it comes to the number of licensed health professionals.

Packham said the number of professionals who received their licenses in Nye County was 15 for physicians, 11 for primary care physicians, three for registered nurses, nine for dentists. The data doesn’t count those who commute to Nye County for work from other counties.

Health professional shortage area

Packham said 100 percent of Nye County’s population lives in the area with primary care shortage, mental health care shortage and dental health shortage.

“The number of physicians, dentists and nurses (in Nye County) is well below other rural areas,” he said.

The Desert View Hospital in Pahrump has opened just recently. According to the data, it’s the third largest employer in the 89048 zip code.

“They are still playing catch-up providing health care for a pretty large population,” he said.

Contact reporter Daria Sokolova at dsokolova@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @dariasokolova77