STUDY: Texas Seniors, Especially Rural Seniors, Lagging in Health Outcomes

Health outcomes for Texas seniors, especially in rural and small town Texas, are slipping, according to the annual study by UnitedHealthcare, News Radio 1200 WOAI reports.

Chris Abbott, the CEO for Retirement and Medicare for UnitedHealthcare Texas says many of the markets which are used in the rankings are down in the state this year, and Texas' overall ranking has fallen to 41st in the US, compared to 38th last year.

"We have one of the highest percentages of seniors who live in poverty, we are 43rd,"Abbott said.  "And that is a big part of driving that number down."

He says seniors in rural Texas are 7% less likely to receive the flu vaccination than urban areas, rural seniors are 13% more likely to be physically inactive, and SNAP, what used to be called 'food stamp' reach is significantly lower for Texas seniors, especially those who live in rural and small town Texas.

Ironically, seniors make up a far greater population in small town and rural Texas, with some small towns away from metropolitan areas having an average age of above 65.

In the past year, Abbott says reports of frequent 'mental distress' among Texas seniors has jumped sharply, and rural seniors are reporting poorer health outcomes and fewer preventive services compared to their urban and suburban peers.

"We need to to better around preventive screenings," he said.  "We need to better around avoiding hospital admissions, where if people were better connected to their primary care physicians, they might have received care that would have kept them out of the hospital."

Abbott says a big problem facing rapidly greying rural and small town Texas is a lack of doctors and hospitals in those areas, forcing seniors, some of whom have difficulty traveling, to go long distance to receive medial treatment.  

The problems facing rural Texas hospitals are well known, and one of the main reasons San Antonio's University of the Incarnate Word opened its new medical school was to train doctors specifically to work in underserved rural areas.

But Abbott says all is not totally bleak for the state's senior population.

"We actually have one of the highest rates of home health care workers in this state," he said.

He says suicide among Texas seniors is down significantly over the past two years.


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