In one part of Long View, the average life expectancy is about 65 years. Just five miles north, in the northwest area of Viewmont, the life expectancy is nearly 20 years higher. People there live to be about 83.
The Long View census tract, only about 1.4 square miles with 2,070 residents, has the lowest life expectancy of all 31 census tracts in Catawba County. The county’s average life expectancy is about 77 years, according to Catawba County Public Health’s 2019 community health assessment.
The reasons behind the drastically lower life expectancy vary. Improving the health of that community could mean drilling down to address individual issues, one step at a time, Catawba County Public Health Strategist Honey Estrada said.
“There are a lot of different things that go into why that life expectancy rate is so much lower,” she said.
To find what’s affecting the health of Long View residents — specifically in the census tract north of U.S. 70 and west of U.S. 321 — the health department looks at the social determinants of health, the conditions in people’s lives that affect their health.
Research shows clinical health accounts for only 20% of determinants of health, Estrada said. A person’s health is largely affected by their community, their environment, economics and education, Estrada said.
“It’s very difficult because there are so many factors,” she said.
In the Long View area, compared to the county as a whole, there is a lower median household income, a higher percentage of people living in poverty and a high number of people who rent rather than own their homes. All of those factors can affect the health of a community, Estrada said.
The median household income is $28,000, according to data from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. Almost 30% of the population lives below the poverty line, compared to 13% countywide. It is one of eight census tracts considered to be areas of concentrated poverty in Catawba County, according to the state. The Long View census tract has the third-highest percentage of people living in poverty in Catawba County.
About 40% of households in Long View spend more than a third of their income on rent.
Financial instability can lead to poor health, Estrada said. Someone with lower income may not be able to take time off work for health issues, get transportation to appointments, afford healthier foods or pay for health care. About 30% of the population in the single Long View area census tract do not have health insurance, and 12% of households don’t have vehicles.
The area is also considered a food desert, and nearly all households have low access to healthy foods, Catawba County Public Health Community Engagement Specialist Emily Killian said.
To better understand the difficulties of getting healthy food from a grocery store, the health department studied what the average person in the area would have to do to get food if they didn’t have a car. For residents, that can mean a half-mile walk along and across busy roads that are without sidewalks. Along a safe route, it would take 40 minutes to get to a grocery store, Killian said. Add young children to the trip and the task is more daunting.
“Those families are looking at a pretty significant trip just to get to the grocery store,” Killian said. “So when it comes to making healthy choices, we have to keep those struggles in mind when we think about folks who live in different areas of the county. We’re not all fortunate to live in areas that are walkable. That’s something that really struck us as we were talking about different people’s health.”
Education also plays a role in health. In the Long View census tract, about 28% of residents don’t have a high school diploma. That’s the second-highest concentration of people without diplomas among Catawba County’s census tracts.
Public health efforts
Catawba County Public Health is focusing on the Long View area because of its low life expectancy, Estrada said.
The census tract also has a higher concentration of minority communities, which are target populations for public health.
“We knew this was an area we wanted to focus on,” Estrada said.
Public health started holding events to bring awareness to the resources they offer, reaching out to community leaders and bringing wellness checks to easy-to-access places.
Improving the health of the area also means addressing the lack of health care providers, Estrada said.
“There’s not a high concentration of primary care practices or medical care practices,” she said. “It’s going to be difficult for community members who live there to have access to care. For example, if they don’t have transportation, or (speak) limited English, all those things are barriers to accessing clinical care.”
Public health provides mobile screenings for breast and cervical cancer and offers well-woman exams.
“The goal of that program is to make sure that women have access to affordable screenings,” Killian said.
The health department also reached out to local faith leaders, so they can direct their congregants to public health when they need help.
“We wanted to build stronger relationships in the faith community because pastors, priests, rabbis and other faith leaders,” Killian said, “they really have strong relationships in their community. People turn to them.”
Public health connected with businesses where people congregate to spread information on health resources. The businesses include hair salons, grocery stores and laundromats.
A group endeavor
Improving the health of the area will take more than just public health’s efforts, Estrada said.
The health department is part of the LiveWell Catawba group, which brings together dozens of organizations to help address disparities that can affect health, many of which fall outside public health’s realm.
The group includes Greenway Public Transportation, Estrada said. Greenway agreed to change some routes to address transportation issues in Long View.
The Catawba County Public Library also participates in the effort. The library recently announced a library outpost that is planned to open at Clean Wave Laundry. The outpost will have a locker where people can pick up books they reserve from the library. The laundry will also become a meeting place for the health department events, according to library leaders.
Clean Wave is owned by Barbara and Gregory Abrams. They were involved in their community even before committing to hosting the library outpost. The Abrams offered educational tablets to children at the laundromat and books for the community. Barbara Abrams wants to be part of improving the community.
“I do get involved and do what I can,” she said.
She says the community sometimes suffers because not many want to get involved and improve their area.
“It’s a lot of ‘me’ thinking, and people feed off what goes,” Abrams said.
Abrams said she wants to improve education and literacy in her community, which can play into health outcomes. The laundromat also offers free Wi-Fi, giving access to those who need it.
Abrams said there aren’t a lot of resources in the area, and she hopes to see more outreach in the future.