Howard County Faces Stark Racial Health Disparities, New Report Finds
Disparities in infant mortality, chronic disease, mental health and other indicators highlight need to prioritize and expand opportunities for better health for all
COLUMBIA, Md. – Persistent racial disparities in numerous health measures pose challenges and opportunities for Howard County, Maryland, according to a new report released by the Horizon Foundation. The report details inequities in prenatal care and infant health, chronic disease, mental health and advance care planning and also analyzes root causes and calls for specific solutions and broad action by public agencies and others to address them.
“While Howard County ranks among the healthiest communities in the state and nation, we still fall short of our potential – and by maximizing our strengths, leadership and commitment, we can rise to the top,” the report concludes. “Unfortunately, even in our county, your zip code, skin color, income and other demographic factors can determine your health in very unfair ways.”
Maryland’s wealthiest and fastest growing county boasts some of the state’s best schools, a crime rate that sits below the statewide average, and a standout medical facility in Howard County General Hospital. But, drawing on a wealth of data from public agencies and other sources, the report points to the fact that residents do not enjoy the county’s benefits equally. Its findings include the following about Howard County:
- Black infants die at more than double the rate of White infants.
- Latina and Black mothers are twice as likely as White mothers to receive late or no prenatal care.
- Heart disease, a leading cause of death in the county, is killing Black residents at a rate higher than for any other race.
- Black adults are more likely to report having diabetes than people of other races. Diabetes also sends Black adults to the emergency department at a rate four times higher than White adults.
- Nearly 50% of Latina high schoolers report feeling sad and hopeless to the point of stopping their usual activities, compared to 23% of White students and 26% of Black students. They are also most likely to take the further step of making suicide plans.
- Among adults in the county, Black residents are most likely to say they have been “bothered” by “feeling down, depressed or hopeless” and by “having little interest or pleasure in doing things” – two indicators of risk for depression.
- Asian residents are the least likely out of all races to have a signed advance directive, with 82% saying they do not have one.
The report, “The 2020 Vision for Health in Howard County,” was published by the Horizon Foundation as part of its equity initiative, which provides grants to community organizations addressing racial disparities in the county, promotes learning opportunities on racial equity in health and raises awareness about racial bias through speakers and events. The Horizon Foundation’s mission is to improve health and wellness for people who live or work in Howard County, and it is the largest independent health philanthropy in Maryland.
“Howard County is fortunate to have, overall, a high standard of living and strong health measures, but this report makes clear that can and must do more as a community to ensure everyone has the opportunity to achieve good health,” said Nikki Highsmith Vernick, president and CEO of the Horizon Foundation. “We need immediate action to improve policies and practices now, while continuing to collect disaggregated data, analyze root causes and address broader systemic changes over the long term.”
In addition to examining county-level data on specific public health indicators, the report highlights national research findings that address likely causes for existing disparities and points to specific short-term steps that have been effective in other communities and will improve access to care and other resources in Howard County.
“Equity in health is a top priority of the Local Health Improvement Coalition (LHIC) and our partners, and we look forward to continuing our commitment to addressing health disparities,” said Steve Snelgrove, president of Howard County General Hospital and co-chair of the Howard County LHIC.
“By striving to close gaps and create a culture of good health, Howard County can be a model community for health equity and wellness in the state and in the nation,” said Howard County Health Officer Dr. Maura Rossman and co-chair of the Howard County LHIC. “Our goal is to achieve the highest quality of life for all.”
The report provides a reminder that the racial disparities seen in Howard County are the stubborn legacy of systems that perpetuate different health outcomes for people of different races. At the same time, the report is optimistic about the county’s ability to respond.
“What’s driving these differences? A system of policies, practices and programs that were not designed to serve everyone equally,” the report states. “From the nation’s founding to today, our society has been designed to benefit some more than others. While a number of past injustices have been addressed by public policy, their legacies persist, and new injustices have emerged. Still, Howard County has emerged from this history well-positioned to address the unequal access to opportunities and outcomes that remains in our community. We are people who value community, innovation, hard work, education and ensuring fair and just opportunities to build a successful future.”
For some local organizations representing communities of color, the report’s findings and proposals reflect broad and persistent challenges faced by residents of color.
“This report is a call to action for Howard County,” said Audra Nixon of the African American Community Roundtable. “For too long, members of our community have not had a fair and just chance to achieve good health and thrive. But with collective action and changes, we can make this possible for everyone – and build a better future for coming generations.”
The Horizon Foundation is the largest independent health philanthropy in Maryland. We lead community change so everyone in Howard County can live a longer, better life. We are committed to improving health through innovative initiatives, collaborative partnerships, strategic grantmaking and thoughtful advocacy. Learn more at www.thehorizonfoundation.org.