Report title: Southcoast Health Community Health Needs Assessment – 2019

Author(s): David R. Borges, Michael P. McCarthy, Salvador A. Balkus, Robert E. Stickles

Report date: October 2019

Sponsor: Southcoast Health

Issue areas: healthcare, health disparities

Summary & key findings: Southcoast Health’s Community Benefits Advisory Committee (CBAC) conducts a Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) every three years that identifies the most important health-related issues in the “South Coast” region (the communities of Swansea, Somerset, Fall River, Westport, Dartmouth, New Bedford, Acushnet, Freetown, Fairhaven, Mattapoisett, Marion, Rochester, and Wareham). The information that follows documents the major demographic, socioeconomic, and health trends among South Coast residents, with a focus on health access, substance use disorder, wellness and chronic disease, maternal, infant, and child health, environmental health, and health disparities. The analysis is enhanced by qualitative data gathered through stakeholder interviews, focus groups, and an online survey of the region’s service providers. The goal of the assessment is to inform data-driven objectives and strategies that can be used to improve the overall health of South Coast residents.

Income, education, race, and other socioeconomic indicators are factors that affect health outcomes and are among the best predictors of health status and health equity. Fall River and New Bedford continue to lag behind the region as a whole and the state in most socioeconomic metrics. The median household income in the cities is considerably lower than the statewide median and below the other communities of the South Coast. The poverty rate in the cities is more than double the statewide rate and often four to five times higher than the surrounding towns, and in the cities, families—particularly those led by a single mother—earn incomes well below the federal poverty level. Additionally, while educational attainment in the region has improved in recent years, the overall degree attainment in the region lags behind that of the state.

A major theme that emerged from the interviews and focus groups is that income and education were the primary contributing factors to health disparities. One stakeholder put it succinctly, stating that healthier people are “of high socioeconomic status, white people or people with white privilege, and educated.” This view, to varying degrees, was echoed by numerous stakeholders, who often cited low educational attainment and incomes in Fall River and New Bedford as major obstacles to better health outcomes in the cities.

Report link: Access the report here.