Today’s edition (June 16) of the Colorado Springs Business Journal includes the Health Care Quarterly, and while most of the Journal’s focuses on health care in the past include interviews with doctors, nurses and traditional health care administrators, this week’s Quarterly follows up on the topic of health equity.

It was a little over a year ago The Colorado Trust, a Denver-based health equity foundation, expanded its reach into Colorado Springs. The trust had been focused on rural communities throughout Colorado and was working its way into more urban populations. The organization is focused on social determinants of health, which are all the structural things (not necessarily hospitals and urgent care facilities) that make a neighborhood healthy — parks, fresh food, neighborhood activities and places to gather that create a sense of community.

The benefits of healthy and connected neighborhoods is immeasurable; however, the societal hurdles are great.

But the good news is several local and state agencies are making it their mission to level the playing field.

Deana Hunt is Pikes Peak United Way’s senior vice president of community impact. PPUW has made it its mission, partly through its Colorado Springs Promise program, to improve graduation rates at Mitchell High School, as well as the social determinants of health within the surrounding neighborhood.

Hunt said Mitchell had the lowest graduation rate in the district and students experience some of the highest mobility in the city, with many students having attended a different school the year before.

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According to PPUW data, Mitchell leads the district in English language learners (15 percent), free and reduced lunches (73 percent) and has the lowest attendance rate (85.7 percent). One in three students is new to the school, compared to just more than 19 percent at Coronado High School, which has the district’s lowest mobility rate.

Through it’s 2-1-1 public assistance hotline, Hunt said PPUW is able to track community challenges.

“During the first quarter of 2017, 8 percent of all referrals from 2-1-1 were related to health care, mental health or addictions,” Hunt said in an email. “Housing, income assistance (including tax help), utility assistance and food and meals (in that order) were categories requested more frequently. We know that each of these categories are social determinants of health which impact health status and how the community responds will affect the overall health of the community. … We anticipate that during the second quarter, housing, utility assistance, food and meals, and health care will surpass income assistance because the need for tax preparation help will have passed.”

Additionally, data provided by The Colorado Trust also showed that, the farther south in the state one travels, the more pronounced health equity challenges become.

People without a high school degree are in poverty at rate of 32 percent in Pueblo County,” according to the trust’s research department. Median annual earnings in Pueblo County are $30,897. For those without a high school degree, earnings drop to $18,175.

The poverty rate in Pueblo County is 19.8 percent, compared to 12.7 percent in Colorado.

And race plays a significant role in the poverty dilemma. The poverty rate by race in Pueblo County breaks down as follows:

  • Caucasian/not Hispanic or Latino – 9 percent
  • Black – 24 percent
  • American Indian/Alaska Native – 24.3 percent
  • Asian – 12 percent
  • Hispanic/Latino 22.3 percent

Hispanic/Latino residents are nearly 2 ½ times more likely to be in poverty than non-Hispanic residents in the county, according to the trust.

“In lots of ways, these communities see two Colorados, and it’s split where the El Paso and Pueblo county lines meet,” said Theresa Trujillo, The Colorado Trust’s community partner for southeast Colorado. “The state often touts its recovery from the recession, but a lot of rural communities haven’t felt that relief.”

Editor’s note: Read more about health equity in central and southern Colorado in the June 16 edition of the Colorado Springs Business Journal.