People in Eastern Washington are more likely to die from cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and other common causes of death than people in the western part of the state, according to researchers at Washington State University’s Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine.
Poverty and less access to health care may be among the reasons, the report said.
“In Eastern Washington, nearly 18 percent of the population lived below the poverty level,” compared to just 12 percent in Western Washington, according to the report.
In addition, 15 percent of Eastern Washington residents lived in small towns or rural areas, compared to just 2 percent in Western Washington, the report said.
“Future studies can assess how poverty, rurality and access to care impact higher rates of mortality in eastern Washington,” said the report released this week.
More study needed
Dr. Amy Person, health officer for the Benton-Franklin Health District, said further study is key.
“When we see there are differences, we need to not stop there and (instead) look at what’s causing them and what we can do about preventable or systemic barriers to people being healthy,” she said.
The health district has a focus on health equality, she said.
“We’re working on trying to identify areas of greatest need and how to address those,” Person said.
According to the report, Eastern Washington had higher mortality rates in 10 of the 11 leading causes of death in the state from 2011-15, including cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease, unintentional injuries, chronic lower respiratory diseases, stroke, diabetes, suicide, chronic liver disease and the flu.
Drug overdoses higher on west side
The only cause of death in which Western Washington was higher was drug overdoses.
Researchers found that 716 residents per 100,000 in Eastern Washington died of those causes, compared to 659 residents in western Washington.
Nationally, 733 people per 100,000 residents died of those causes.
The report defined Eastern Washington as the 20 counties east of the Cascade Range, which have 1.5 million residents. The 19 counties west of the mountains have 5.4 million residents.
The report was compiled from data provided by the state Department of Health. It factored in ages and adjusted to exclude deaths of the very young and very old to get more relevant numbers.
Study co-author Ofer Amram, an assistant professor at the Spokane-based medical school, told The Spokesman-Review that the findings may reflect that Eastern Washington’s smaller and more isolated communities have less access to health care.
He also said the differences in mortality rates were greater than he expected.
For instance, in the case of unintentional injuries, if you take 100,000 people each from Eastern Washington and western Washington, roughly 45 will die from accidents in the east, and roughly 36 will die from accidents in the west, according to the report.
The Floyd College of Medicine was founded in 2015 to improve health care access in rural Washington.
Tri-City Herald staff contributed to this report.