North Carolina has a D grade in women’s health. That’s according to a state-commissioned report, titled, the 2019 Status of Women in North Carolina: Health and Wellness. County-by-county data in the report shows that while New Hanover County fares slightly better than the overall state, more work still needs to be done.
“This issue that we're talking about today is not just a women's issue. It's a community issue. It’s an economy issue. It's a male and female issue. It's a family issue. And for me, it's a personal issue.”
That’s state Department of Administration Secretary Machelle Sanders, kicking off the local unveiling of the report at UNCW this past June.
The report was conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, and is one of a series of four focusing on women’s issues in the state. Last year’s report on Earnings and Employment found that the state has a 19 percent gender wage gap, and ranks in the bottom third in the nation in women’s workforce participation.
Findings from this report are not more optimistic than the last: out of all 50 states, North Carolina ranks in the middle to bottom on indicators of women’s health and wellness.
For example, the state ranks 11th highest in infant mortality, 13th highest in diabetes mortality, and 9th highest in stroke mortality among women.
For black women, as well as women in rural communities, these mortality rates are significantly higher.
There is some good news, however. HIV and gonorrhea cases are decreasing statewide, along with mortality rates for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and certain cancers.
“I think a lot of this really, it's about relative change. So while there has been a lot of progress in North Carolina, other states are progressing faster, so they're having a lot more, a lot better outcomes, and they're seeing a lot more results.”
Elyse Shaw is a co-author of the report, and a Study Director at the Institute for Women's Policy Research. She says that while a lot of work needs done in the state, she and her colleagues hope the report can be a catalyst for change.
“Our hope for any of these types of reports is that people really take the data in and really look at what's going on overall in North Carolina, within their own communities by county, and really put forth policies that will target where the gaps are.”
The report’s county-by-county data reveals that New Hanover County has lower heart disease, diabetes, and breast cancer mortality rates than both state and national averages. An exception, however, is stroke mortality rates, which are much higher in the county, along with numbers of cases of gonorrhea and chlamydia.
Phillip Tarte, Director of Public Health for New Hanover County, says the specific cause of these trends is too complex to pinpoint. But moving forward, he recommends ensuring the county is rich in shared resources and referral networks.
“How do we work with our community partners?... How do we utilize our community partners and collaborate, coordinate, pair resources to make these things happen? That's how we move these communities forward.”
Recommendations from the report include closing the insurance gap, increasing medical investments in rural areas, increasing funding for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault, increasing women’s economic security, and increasing investments in young people.
“The zip code… actually determines your health status. So if you can create a community that has access to good jobs, good food, opportunities for growth, recreational activities, you increase the viability of that community. And that's sort of where public health is moving to.”
In addition to healthcare trends, the report reveals that 13 percent of women in the state are uninsured.
“It’s not even something that I can imagine or fathom, to have an illness... whether that's a cold or a virus or cancer, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, heart problems, and not be able to get the healthcare that I need to live my life.”
Governor Roy Cooper says expanding medicaid would provide 250 thousand women in the state with healthcare. Senate Leader Phil Berger, an opponent of expansion, says that it would increase wait times at doctors offices, cause delays in testing and procedures, and crowd out funding for disabled citizens.
Future reports in the Status of NC Women series will look at political participation, as well as poverty and opportunity.