SAN DIEGO (Sept. 27, 2022) — Access to health care services, aging care and support, and behavioral health care are among the top seven most critical community needs in San Diego County, according to the newly released 2022 San Diego Community Health Needs Assessment.
The report, which identifies the top health-related needs in San Diego County, is intended to be a resource for health care providers, policymakers, civic leaders, and local nonprofit organizations as they seek to improve health outcomes in the region. Other top needs, in alphabetical order, are children and youth well-being, chronic health conditions, community safety, and economic stability.
The report also highlights two foundational challenges — increasing health disparities and unprecedented workforce shortages and employee burnout — that are intensifying, growing, and continuing to severely affect the region’s ability to address health and social needs.
The Hospital Association of San Diego & Imperial Counties (HASD&IC) produced the report in collaboration with all local hospitals and health districts (a first for this assessment), San Diego County’s Health & Human Services Agency, and more than 20 community-based nonprofit organizations. The findings are based on focus groups, interviews, and survey responses from more than 840 community members, health care workers, civic leaders, social service providers, and local government staff. Statistics from local, state, and national data sources also were analyzed to identify key trends.
“The Community Health Needs Assessment is an essential tool to help all San Diegans better understand and prioritize the health-related needs of our community,” said HASD&IC President & CEO Dimitrios Alexiou. “Hospitals throughout the region will be reviewing the findings and considering opportunities to address selected identified health needs in accordance with their organizational structures, clinical capabilities, and the needs of the communities they serve. We also hope this report serves as a ‘call to action’ among public health officials, community leaders, and civic and nonprofit organizations as they work to improve community health.”
According to the report, making appointments with primary care providers, obtaining referrals for specialized care, and restrictions and confusion related to insurance coverage are among the top challenges San Diegans face in accessing health care services. The report also found that the COVID-19 pandemic caused widespread disruption to the health care system, including postponed or canceled procedures, long wait times for appointments, and people delaying medically necessary care due to fear of exposure to the virus.
“As providers of health and human services to 1.2 million San Diegans, the more insight we have in assessing our communities’ needs, the better we can provide services,” said Nick Macchione, director of San Diego County’s Health & Human Services Agency. “This expansive Community Health Needs Assessment is remarkable not only because it identifies the complexities and concerns we face, but also because it represents an exciting collaboration with every private hospital, health system, health district, and behavioral health hospital in the region.”
When it comes to San Diego’s aging population, the report found a significant portion of those who are unhoused are older adults. In 2020, one out of every four unsheltered individuals in San Diego County were 55 and older. Yet, many shelters may not be designed to meet the needs of older adults — especially those with serious health concerns or functional impairments.
The most challenging issues facing San Diego’s children and youth, according to the report, are related to behavioral health needs. In an online survey conducted for the report, more than 60% of respondents selected mental/behavioral health, anxiety, and depression as the top concerns for children and youth.
Among other findings in the report, cancer, heart disease, and diabetes continue to be among the region’s leading causes of death and disability. And, because of delayed care from the pandemic, some community members’ chronic conditions have worsened. Long waitlists and backlogs in accessing care for chronic diseases continue to plague many San Diego area patients.
The report also includes comments from community members concerned about their personal safety. In the spring and summer of 2020, the public’s awareness of long-standing inequities in their communities was heightened by the social unrest occurring throughout the country. While San Diego County leaders have acknowledged these serious concerns by declaring racism a public health crisis, the report highlights ongoing worries related to neighborhood safety, hate crimes, and violence against vulnerable populations.
San Diego’s high cost of living, coupled with rising inflation and economic hardships stemming from the pandemic, were flagged as issues that undermine the economic stability of San Diego’s communities. For example, two full-time working adults making a minimum wage of $14 per hour would fall short of the minimum income needed to survive in San Diego County by about $23,800 a year.
The report concludes with a series of high-level recommendations that are centered around the need for ongoing collaboration among hospitals/health systems, governmental and community leaders, and nonprofit organizations to address the underlying causes of health disparities.