SAN BERNARDINO: Providers look for ways to improve care

Aristello Diaz, of San Bernardino, receives a flu shot from registered nurse Jackie Kimball from St. Bernardine Medical Center during the 17th annual Thanksgiving Dinner Health Fair and Jacket Boutique at the Family Focus Center in San Bernardino.

Battling a life expectancy rate some eight to 15 years less than the state average according to reports, San Bernardino health care providers are using technology and community outreach to improve care.

State health data indicate that the Inland area ranks poorly in almost all measurable medical categories. Between 1999 and 2008, a higher-than-average number of residents in San Bernardino county were hospitalized for manageable conditions, including diabetes, high blood pressure and chronic lung disease, compared to those in other counties.

Two San Bernardino organizations have found that the average life span in San Bernardino is lower than that of the state and nation. A June report presented on behalf of Healthy San Bernardino and the Latino Health Collaborative determined that San Bernardino’s average life expectancy is age 65, compared to that of age 73 for California.

However, the California Department of Public Health indicates that the state’s average life expectancy in 2009 was about age 81.

No one from Healthy San Bernardino and the Latino Health Collaborative could be reached to discuss the report.

Dr. Maxwell Ohikhuare, the county’s public health officer, said he had not seen the presentation. Generally, he said, San Bernardino is a poor city with much unemployment and crime, poor air quality and low incomes. All of those issues are factors in determining community health, he said.

“There is a lot of disparity in terms of health and health care,” Ohikhuare said. “It’s a complex issue.”

Poverty, lack of health insurance and access to care could be some of the reasons for the Inland area's poor results, health providers say.

San Bernardino’s two hospitals are working to improve the health of city residents.

Earlier this year, Catholic Healthcare West, parent company of St. Bernardine Medical Center and Community Hospital of San Bernardino, launched an online tool that anyone can use to determine health care needs statewide. Its Community Needs Index shows by ZIP code the health care needs of every community based on health disparity indicators and hospital admissions.

Most ZIP codes in San Bernardino county indicate a substantial health care need, according to the index.

San Bernardino’s hospitals for years have distributed grants to other city organizations, health care providers and agencies to improve residents’ health. Next year, they expect to award an estimated $223,000 throughout the community, said Kathleen McDonald, Inland Empire Service Area manager for community benefits.

San Bernardino’s hospitals also offer disease self-management classes to help patients with manageable conditions. Patients sometimes need assistance in dealing with depression and motivation, not just following medical advice, said Dr. Margo Young, the hospitals’ Inland Empire Service Area director for community health.

“I can tell patients all kinds of things to do,” she said. “But they need skills and support,” especially after diagnosis of a chronic disease, Young said. “It’s too overwhelming for them.”