The Riverside County Department of Public Health convened more than 150 representatives of local organizations and officials from various governmental agencies Wednesday, July 22, to discuss the state of the county’s health and prescriptions for existing problems.

The gathering was part of a Strategic Health Alliance Pursuing Equity campaign that began earlier this year. The Community Health Improvement Workshop examined findings from more than 4,000 surveys filled out in community forums beginning in January of this year, as part of a county health assessment initiative.

Surveys pictured a county facing major health challenges, with more net negatives than positives, compared to the other 57 counties in the state.

Riverside County received its lowest rankings, 49th of 58, in physical environment and 48th in clinical care. County scores in physical environment were dragged down by high numbers of commuters driving alone and very long distances. In clinical care, the greatest negatives were in health care professional/patient ratios: 2,469.1:1 for primary care physicians compared to other county averages of 1,294:1; 2,077.1:1 for dentists compared to 1,291.1:1 for other counties; and 731.1:1 for mental health providers compared to 376.1:1 for other counties. Higher numbers of “preventable hospital stays” and fewer “mammography screenings” also eroded county rankings.

Ranked on key health factors and outcomes, Riverside County came in 38th in quality of life, with more residents citing “poor or fair health,” “poor physical health days” and “poor mental health days” than other county resident averages.

It ranked 32nd in health behavior with more adult smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, excessive drinking, alcohol-impaired driving deaths and teen births than in other county averages. Only in having fewer sexually transmitted diseases did the county score better than other county health behavior averages, with about 20 percent fewer STDs.

Other county positives were in significant improvements in social and economic factors shown since the 2014 rankings — fewer premature deaths, more high school graduates, less income inequality and fewer children in single-parent households than other county averages.

Top issues scheduled to be addressed in the future include improving the county’s social environment with safer neighborhoods and stronger families, its economy with a better jobs picture and less homelessness, and the natural environment with less pollution and better air quality.

The statewide SHAPE initiative seeks to diagnose and address health concerns and issues. The Riverside County survey had input from more than 4,000 residents, from 69 zip codes including Idyllwild, with 85 percent English-speaking respondents and 15 percent Spanish.

Riverside County CEO Jay Orr opened the July 22 gathering and stressed the importance of unifying resources and resolve to face county health challenges. County Public Health Director Susan Harrington summarized the July 22 meeting: “It was good to see people from so many disciplines come together in one location,” she said. “We were successful in identifying real, tangible solutions to some of the health and wellness issues facing residents. There is plenty of work that still must take place, but we now have a better road map on where we want to go.”

County Public Health Information Specialist Jose Arballo Jr. said a final plan, collecting and collating information gathered since January, would be published and disseminated by the end of September. “With that plan we’ll be able to better understand how we can use resources we have to better effect and to eliminate redundancies with other county departments and agencies,” said Arballo. He noted a SHAPE website will be launched in the fall, giving residents access to data and upcoming initiatives.

For more information about the SHAPE initiative, contact 951-358-5557 or [email protected].