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State ranks Hall low in minority health care
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James Peoples, director of the state Office of Health Improvement, explains what Tuesday’s meeting is about.

State officials say Hall County is among the worst in Georgia when it comes to minority health care, but they’re not sure why.

They’re asking for Hall residents to help them solve the mystery.

At 1 p.m. Tuesday, the Georgia Department of Community Health will offer a "Community Conversation" at the Georgia Department of Human Resources office on Thompson Bridge Road.

James Peoples, director of the DCH’s Office of Health Improvement, said similar meetings have been held recently at other cities across Georgia, including Augusta, Valdosta, Athens and Columbus. The purpose is to discuss the findings of the Georgia Health Disparities Report 2008, a county-by-county comparison study that was released in April.

Though available in PDF form, the 359-page document is difficult to read online. Paper copies and CDs of the report will be handed out at the meeting.

"I’ll do a presentation on what the numbers mean, and then we’ll open it up for a conversation," Peoples said.

The study gives each county a "report card" grading various health indicators, and Hall doesn’t fare so well.

The county got a D on social and economic indicators, F on mortality, F on hospital admissions and ER visits, D+ on prenatal care and birth outcomes, B on primary care access, D on physician racial-ethnic diversity and C+ on mental health care access.

Peoples said most of the data compares Hall’s white and black populations. For example, the county received an F on mortality because black residents, on average, die at a much earlier age than whites.

"Data on Hispanic and Asian populations were not always available on a county-by-county basis," he said.

A glaring discrepancy in the report is that Hall scored relatively well on the availability of primary care, yet the county got an F on preventable ER visits.

"If minorities had a primary care home, they wouldn’t have to go to the emergency room for things like the common cold," Peoples said.

Yet in Hall, low-income people do have options, such as the Good News Clinics and the Health Access Initiative.

"You do have primary care available, but for whatever reason, it’s not being utilized by minorities to the extent that it could be utilized," said Peoples. "We’ll tell you what we think the reasons are, but we don’t have all the answers. That’s why we’re having this meeting. We want to hear what you think."

Faye Bush, president of the Newtown Florist Club, said she wants to go to the meeting. Her civil rights advocacy group has long complained that black residents in south Gainesville suffer from an unusually high number of illnesses, which Bush believes may be related to industrial pollution.

She said there are probably several reasons for the disparities in minorities’ health.

"I think some of it is just not having money to go to doctors," she said. "But I think they should also look at what (environmental factors) people in communities are exposed to."

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