Marin’s public health dashboard shines a light on capital gaps
Marin’s public health dashboard shines a light on capital gaps

A jogger runs along the shoreline on a chilly morning in San Rafael, Calif., on Tuesday, Dec. 1, 2020. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)

The Marin County Department of Public Health has created an Internet dashboard that illustrates health care disparities among county residents.

The dashboard is part of a larger effort to better address the health of Marin’s minority communities.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has ranked Marin County as the healthiest county in the state for 13 of the past 14 years. In 2017, it slipped to No. 2, below San Mateo County.

“We have among the longest life expectancies at about 85 years, and we consistently rank high in county health rankings for that reason,” Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County’s public health officer, told the Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

“However,” Willis said, “we also have something that is not something to be proud of, which is that we have some of the largest differences in life expectancy between communities in Marin County.”

For example, Willis noted that the highest life expectancy in Marin is in Ross, where residents have an average life expectancy of 91.9 years. The lowest life expectancy in the county is in Marin City, home to the largest share of Marin’s African-American population. There, the average life expectancy is 77.1 years.

Willis unveiled the new dashboard during a Board of Supervisors workshop on the 2024-2025 fiscal year. He said the idea for the dashboard was prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What we found is that communities were differentially affected by the pandemic in terms of cases, access to testing and access to vaccines,” Willis said. “This led to the formation of a new part of the public health infrastructure called community response teams.”

The county formed four teams: one to interact with Marin City and the rest of South Marin; another that includes the predominantly Hispanic Canal neighborhood of San Rafael and other parts of the city; a team for parts of Novato where a significant number of Latino residents live; and another focused on western Marin, which has a fairly large number of Latino farm workers.

A local nonprofit organization leads each community response team, and the teams consist of at least 10 partner agencies. These agencies include other nonprofit organizations, schools, community health clinics, religious organizations, businesses, and government organizations.

“Community Response Teams are networks of community-based leaders who understand their community best,” Willis said, “and can be our most effective strategic partners in closing gaps.”

A bicyclist rides along Ross Common in Ross, Calif., on Aug. 9, 2018. The highest life expectancy in Marin is in Ross, where residents live an average of 91.9 years, according to the county’s public health office. (Alan Depp/Marin Independent Journal)

In the early days of the pandemic, vaccination rates among Marin’s African-American residents remained stubbornly low despite the county’s efforts to make getting vaccines as convenient as possible by sending mobile clinics to Marin City.

“You have to understand how we feel about vaccinations because they’ve affected our people since the Tuskegee experiment and so many other things,” said Jahmir Reynolds, executive director of the Marin County Cooperation Team, the nonprofit organization that serves as the lead agency for the South Marin Community Response Team.

A ten-year joint research project by the US Public Health Service and the Tuskegee Institute began in 1932. The experiment involved 600 black men – 399 with syphilis and 201 without the disease. Men infected with syphilis did not receive any effective treatment for the disease during the course of the study, although penicillin became the treatment of choice by 1943.

As a result, some of the participants died, went blind, went insane, or had other severe health problems due to untreated syphilis.

“So in the pandemic, this was all new,” Reynolds said. “There was a sense of skepticism, like what’s going on?”

Reynolds helped write a research paper on the Southern Marin Response Team’s efforts in Marin City during the pandemic. The article was published in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology and was later accepted into the National Institutes of Health Library.

The paper identified the response team’s partnership with churches in Marin City as one of the keys to its relative success.

“It definitely made a big difference,” Reynolds said, “mainly because the church is seen as a safe place.”

Pastor Floyd Tompkins of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Marin City said, “It took a lot of empathy, trust and grace to work together to achieve our goal of vaccinating more people.”

Today, 12.9% of Marin’s African-American population is up-to-date on COVID-19 vaccinations. That’s higher than the 9.3 percent Hispanic population, but remains much lower than the 33.4 percent among Marin’s white, non-Hispanic population.

Willis said vaccine hesitancy among other minority groups in Marin has other reasons.

“We learned that fertility concerns are more common among our Latinos,” he said. “The community response team active in the channel included young women living in that community who could address these issues directly. Another obstacle was the general mistrust of government related to immigration.

Dr. Matt Willis, Marin County Public Health Officer, works at the Emergency Operations Center in San Rafael, Calif., on Wednesday, April 15, 2020. Willis is among patients who have begun to recover from the coronavirus. (Sherry LaVars/Marin Independent Journal)

Each community response team receives $150,000 a year. The funds are provided by the Coronavirus Relief, Assistance and Economic Security Act. The legislation expires at the end of June.

“Because this is an effective new structure to drive government and community action,” Willis wrote in an email, “Health and Human Services has requested ongoing funding from the county.”

The teams meet every two weeks and have gone beyond the pandemic response to address overdose prevention, disaster preparedness and access to services like CalFresh and MediCal.

“We are currently strategizing how to address the fentanyl crisis in addition to diabetes,” Reynolds said.

The new dashboard focuses on the same four sectors of the county as the community response teams. The dashboard allows users to view census tracts in the four zones. In addition to information on life expectancy, it provides data on mental health, drug overdoses, heart attacks and falls by older residents, and a host of socioeconomic measures.

“To close gaps, you have to see them,” Willis said.

The new Marin County Public Health Dashboard on a laptop in Novato, Calif., on Friday, March 22, 2024. There are a dozen categories such as flu surveillance and health equity. (Alan Depp/Marin Independent Journal)

By admin

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *