A $543 million regional hospital anticipated to open next year in Largo seeks to help decrease health ailments such hypertension, obesity and high blood pressure, challenges that affected Prince George’s County before the coronavirus arrived in Maryland’s majority-Black jurisdiction.

A report compiled by the Rand Corp. of Arlington, Va., highlights some of those health challenges such as the rate of emergency room visits for Black and Latino children with asthma more than quadruples that of white children.

Although the uninsured rate for county residents decreased from 15 percent in 2009 to 11 percent in 2018, Prince George’s continues to have the highest rate in the state.

One of the most startling statistics: the county spent $39 per person in health and human services in fiscal year 2018. According to the report, the agency’s “current reach” of programs and policies spreads to three of the county’s nine districts.

In comparison, Baltimore County spent $45; Anne Arundel County $91; Howard County $109; and Montgomery County $224.

“That speaks volumes to the high need in this county,” Prince George’s council member Deni Taveras (D-District 2) of Adelphi, said Friday, Oct. 2. “We need to figure out a way to invest much better.”

Taveras’ predominately Latino district not only has 26 percent of residents uninsured, but also a teen birth rate more than double the county rate.

Besides Prince George’s continuing to record the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state exceeding 30,000, the 20783 zip code in Taveras’ district has the most cases among zip codes in Maryland. The designation includes parts of Adelphi, Beltsville and Langley Park.

She suggested the county invest in a similar program called “sex positive” at www.sexualbeing.org in neighboring D.C. The initiative managed by the city’s Department of Health encourages residents to take HIV tests, fill out an online form to receive free condoms and other resources.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2018, the District recorded the highest rate of HIV diagnoses in the country at 39 per 100,000 people. Maryland ranked sixth at 16.5.

“Because there is such a strong religious presence in Prince George’s, that detracts from having the hard conversations that need to be had regarding protective care around sex,” Taveras said. “People can try and push abstinence all they want, but that’s not the reality of what’s happening.”

The Rand Corp., a nonprofit organization that conducts nationwide and international public policy, summarized how overcrowded housing, limited primary care physicians and lack of mental health and behavioral services also contribute to Prince George’s health challenges.

The report offers some recommendations such as:

– Create a health and human services plan.
– Invest in data tracking for “whole health,” or assess the spending in each county agency and department.
– Require each agency to analyze budgets that advance health and well-being.
– Agencies establish a checklist on whether all residents have access to healthy food, promote health equity, access to safe and affordable housing and job training programs to sustain a livable wage.

It also noted the reallocation of funds within a department based on equity can improve health disparities.

Based on a recommendation from County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, the County Council approved to move $20 million from the police department capital budget to build a mental health and substance structure. However, voters must give the final approval as part of a public safety bond question on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.

Anita Chandra, a senior policy researcher for Rand, said Friday that Prince George’s and other officials nationwide must assess how to manage funding in a different manner.

Chandra, who co-authored the report, said critical care remains an integral part of health care.

However, she said about 80 percent of a person’s health is determined by the environment.

“We have made progress here and there, but it is absolutely not enough,” she said. “You could double down in making sure you’ve got the best pandemic preparedness plan for the future, or you can actually take a look at what COVID revealed. Look at those social inequities and say, ‘not again.’”

When the County Council sits as the District Council to review land-use and zoning matters, council member Jolene Ivey (D-District 5) of Cheverly said, that the body can help control large development.

“We need to use that power to improve communities for the people who live there,” she said. “At the moment, we are having very serious financial challenges. We just have to get through this and have a focus on a vision for the future. We’re going to get out of this. It won’t last forever.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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