Last updated: February 20. 2013 1:31AM - 240 Views

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The health needs survey released Wednesday by the Healthy Northeast Pennsylvania Initiative identifies gaps in area health services and paints a grim picture of the region's overall health.

An analysis of secondary data reveals the region lags behind state averages in key health benchmarks:

• Its population is slightly older than the state at large but has fewer primary care physicians per 100,000 individuals.

• Residents are more likely to smoke or drink excessively and are less physically active, and heart disease and cancer continue to be the leading causes of premature death.

• The prevalence of chronic conditions in area residents is the same or worse than in 2009.

Focus groups and stakeholder interviews noted care for elderly patients, transportation and mental health care, especially substance abuse counseling, as major service gaps for health care companies and government and nonprofit service providers to tackle.

Minority groups also noted a lack of diversity among physicians and other health care providers, leading to a lack of cultural sensitivity as well as a lack of knowledge of conditions prevalent among specific racial groups.

Nearly all interviewed identified a single issue – poverty – as underlying most of the health care problems confronting the region. Survey respondents also identified the cost of health insurance as the number one health problem confronting the community.

The level of poverty and economic strife that we're experiencing here in Lackawanna and Luzerne county has really exasperated the health care and social services situation, said Teri Ooms, executive director of The Institute for Public Policy & Economic Development.

Bill Jones, CEO of United Way of Wyoming Valley, said he's seen increases in the unemployment and poverty rates strain area service providers and offer struggling families limited choices on how to address their most pressing issues.

Clearly what has caught our attention is the impact that poverty has on health care and access to health care within the region, said Jones, and that is something that in our strategic planning process that we will need to look at.

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