Photo by Chris Stone

 Latino residents of San Diego County’s southern region experience barriers to positive health and well-being, but a new community-led effort called Partnerships 4 Success is hoping to change that, it was announced Monday.

According to a report produced by the Institute for Public Strategies, many south region residents experience more physical and behavioral health problems compared to the rest of the county. Data from the county shows that the region, home to approximately 80% people of color, has a poverty rate of 20% and also has the lowest levels of educational attainment in the region.

Brittany Hunsinger, a program manager for P4S, said the project’s goal is to use community voices and local partners to use new and existing resources in the region to prevent adverse conditions.

“At the end of this project, I hope that we will have equipped residents with the necessary tools and strategies to advocate for policy and systems change in support of healthy living,” she said.

The area’s distance to the border impacts the health of its residents. Underage drinking is common across the border, the IPS report found, because Mexico’s legal drinking age is 18.

The region also suffers from environmental pollution, limited access to healthcare services, and language and cultural barriers, with a high level of anxiety and fear among its residents. All those factors can impair a person’s health, resulting in a higher risk for disease, especially substance use disorders.

The COVID-19 pandemic has also hit the area particularly hard, with residents suffering the highest rates of infections in the county.

“We need to do better for essential workers,” said Catherine Branson, lead investigator of the report. “Not just to protect them from pandemics but in general to pay them fairly and protect their health in the workplace much better going forward. That alone could go a long way toward addressing the health disparities in the south region.”

The IPS report is the product of a year-long data collection process in which community leaders in the region were interviewed and data was collected. Interviewees represented sectors such as education, mental health, public health and social services. Many were residents themselves of the south region.

For many, accessing health care is a struggle. One sentiment expressed in the report is that the region lacks basic urban planning and infrastructure like sidewalks and access to open spaces that deny residents the ability to get outside and exercise. Good schools, high-paying jobs with insurance benefits, and access to health care were also cited as lacking in the region.

Systemic racism and a climate of fear around immigration also creates stress that can impact health.

“What struck me most about the report was that life expectancy was falling overall and relative to the county as a whole,” Branson said. “Hopefully we will see that trend reversed with more recent data, but we will definitely see it fall again once we get to the most recent years that factor in COVID deaths.”

According to the report, many documented immigrants are confused over their rights.

One such example is the public charge rule. This allows the federal government to deny permanent residency to immigrants if they use public benefits such as food stamps or MediCal. However, the public charge rule does not apply to citizenship applications or children’s enrollment in MediCal. In 2019, 18% of adults in California immigrant families avoided public benefit programs for fear of hurting their future immigration status.

Fear and distrust of government and health systems play a large part in deterring Latinos from seeking care, as do language barriers and the difficulty of navigating a complex health care system.

Hunsinger said her team has identified the communities most in need of investment and will work to empower them.

–City News Service

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