By Sherry Jacobson at Dallas Morning News
This article originally appeared in the Dallas Morning News on November 12, 2013
Despite an improving economy, children in Dallas County are still suffering, according to a report released Tuesday by Children’s Medical Center Dallas.
Nearly 30 percent of those 18 and younger were living below the poverty level last year. Some had no health insurance and many were in homes without enough food.
“Poverty is the common factor in substandard academic achievement, exposure to crime, domestic abuse and emotional distress,” said Christopher J. Durovich, Children’s president and chief executive officer. “Without access to preventive health care, impoverished children also suffer from needless illnesses.”
He said he was surprised the percentage of poverty-stricken children has been virtually unchanged for the last three years.
The study, “Beyond ABC: Assessing Children’s Health in Dallas County,” estimated that 196,252 children were in poverty in 2012. Poverty for a family of four was defined as an annual income of $23,550 or less.
“We’re expecting families to live on $64 a day or less,” Durovich said.
The report focused on 61 health indicators drawn from federal, state and local sources. It was compiled by the Institute for Urban Policy Research at UT Dallas.
The report also highlights the available safety-net programs. Among the findings:
• Medicaid enrollment of local children grew to 292,398, a 3 percent increase over 2011 and 58 percent higher than in 2007.
• More children enrolled in the Children’s Health Insurance Program for families earning enough to afford premiums. Last year, 66,334 children enrolled, a 6 percent increase over 2011 and 65 percent over 2007.
• Children qualifying for medical and dental screening services through Texas Health Steps rose from 146,368 in 2008 to 218,857 last year. The program stresses preventive care.
Still, 13 percent of local children lacked insurance coverage last year, compared with 25 percent in 2008 and a national average of 7.2 percent.
Since 1996, Children’s Medical Center has offered an annual health assessment of area children. This report focuses on Dallas County, but every other year Children’s covers five other North Texas counties, including Collin.
The medical center provides about $157 million annually in “community benefits,” the report said. Those costs include uncompensated patient care, as well as the cost of training doctors, nurses, social workers and others at the medical center. As a private, not-for-profit institution, Children’s receives no city or county tax support.
“No child is turned away based on a family’s ability to pay,” Durovich said.
Since it opened 100 years ago in donated tents on the grounds of the old Parkland Hospital, Children’s has become the largest and oldest pediatric institution in North Texas.
“They’re a great community resource,” said Paula Turicchi, who oversees Women and Infant Specialty Health at Parkland Memorial Hospital next door. The public hospital often sends its neonatal patients to Children’s for surgery and other procedures.
“It allows them to get care at the best possible place,” she said.
The report found periodic setbacks in health indicators, though the overall trends indicate some improvement.
“There is a slow but heartening improvement in the percentage of 2-year-olds who are fully immunized,” Durovich noted. “But I’d like to see at least a 90 percent vaccination rate.”
The report found:
• Nearly 69 percent of the county’s 2-year-olds underwent full immunization last year. In 2003, the rate was 62 percent.
• Almost 27 percent of local children lived in households without enough food to support an active, healthy lifestyle. The free school lunch and breakfast programs in the county remain popular, but food supplies become scarce in the summer.
• Childhood developmental disabilities rose to 100,831 cases last year. That number has been growing for at least a decade. The disabilities include cerebral palsy, autism, seizures, hearing loss and blindness.
• Adolescent and teen suicides increased to 15 last year from nine deaths in 2011. Nationally, the majority of suicides in this group involve males from families with a history of suicide, depression and other mental illnesses.