AUSTIN (KXAN) — A 2022 Central Health Demographic Report released Friday highlighted significant healthcare needs for lower-income residents in the region, with 75% of Travis County families living along the I-35 corridor identified as living at or below the poverty level.

The 2022 Demographic Report outlines where people from lower-income backgrounds live, healthcare access barriers and the most prevalent illnesses impacting people from lower-income backgrounds.

Central Health President and CEO Mike Geeslin said in a release the report will be used as a factor in the agency’s Healthcare Equity Plan, outlining top priority needs within the community.

“The demographic report findings will help guide our work to create a better healthcare system that gives historically marginalized communities a fair shot at leading healthier lives,” Geeslin said in the release.

Central Health adopted its Healthcare Equity Plan last year.

Key findings from report

Some top findings from the 2022 report include:

  • Affordability issues and high costs of living are regional problems impacted Travis County and surrounding areas/communities
  • Austin is a central access point for people to receive healthcare, affordable housing, public transportation and social services within the region
  • Healthcare access remains a major issue, despite how close some people might live to a clinic, hospital or healthcare service
  • People living in east Austin, as well as Black patients, face the most health equity disparities; demographic differences had a larger impact than geographic differences in Central Health’s Medical Access program

Nearly 8% of Travis County families live at or below the federal poverty level, translating to 23,655 families. Projections outline in the report anticipate that figure will grow an additional 1,799 families living at or below the federal poverty level by 2027.

Also included in the report, Central Health officials found almost 75% of families from lower-income backgrounds live near or along the I-35 corridor.

“Families with low income can’t just pick up and move outside of Austin or to a nearby county and find relief. Affordability is a region-wide issue,” said Monica Crowley, Central Health’s chief strategy & planning officer and senior counsel, in the release. “And even as Austin becomes less affordable, it is becoming a more important access point for safety-net programs, services, and infrastructure aimed at helping people with low income.”

Poverty focus areas

Nine regions within Travis County are reported to have high or moderately high levels of poverty over the next five years:

  • Colony Park
  • Del Valle
  • East Central Austin
  • North Central Austin (Rundberg)
  • North Travis County
  • Northeast Austin (St. John’s/Windsor Hills)
  • Oak Hill
  • South Austin (Dove Springs)
  • Southeast Austin (Montopolis)

Chronic conditions

Among Central Health patients, the report found at least 40% had been diagnosed with one or more chronic health conditions, with the average patient diagnosed with 2.5 chronic conditions. Chronic conditions or diseases are defined as those that last at least one year and require ongoing medical attention, as well as possible limitations on daily activities.

Conversely, among the United States’ insured population between the ages of 18 to 64, only 16% are reported to have been diagnosed with a chronic disease.

Central Health’s report found demographic characteristics like race and ethnicity were significant factors that influenced both the number and severity of chronic health conditions in patients.

People experiencing homelessness

Around 8% of people serviced by Central Health during the fiscal year 2020-21 year were people experiencing homelessness, per the release. Of those, 57% of people experiencing homelessness had at least one chronic condition, with the average closer to 3.2 chronic conditions per person.

“Medical respite is a critical stabilizing force for individuals experiencing homelessness because healing is impossible without having a safe place to recuperate,” said Dr. Audrey Kuang, Central Health’s director of high-risk populations, in the release. “It gives individuals an opportunity to heal from their acute medical illness while also working on their social needs – like housing and benefits – and behavioral health needs.”

Race, ethnicity-based health barriers

The report stated race and ethnic identities played a factor in inequities among patients.

The report said Black patients were 30% more likely to be diagnosed with cardiovascular disease and 40% more likely to have hypertension when compared to Central Health’s overall patient population. Latino patients were reported as 10% more likely to have diabetes than the overall population, as well.

“The analysis from this report will inform our Healthcare Equity Plan for years into the future” Central Health Board of Managers Chairperson Dr. Charles Bell said in the release. “Inequities in our healthcare system were created over the course of decades, if not centuries, and it will take time and very focused intentional work by our entire community to correct those inequities.”

The full report is available online.