Ector County health outcomes lag behind

Health officials say direct efforts to improve Ector County’s fitness and health ranking in the state have fizzled out due to changes in local leadership and a lack of a health-minded culture.
Ector County Independent School District Director of Nursing Services Laura Mathew said Ector County continues to have the same health concerns year after year.
The county was ranked 199 out of 242 Texas counties on health behaviors like adult obesity, physical inactivity and access to exercise opportunities in a 2018 county health rankings report published by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute in collaboration with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Midland County ranked 110, Tom Green County ranked 94, Andrews County ranked 65 and El Paso County came in at 59 on the same health behavior measure.
The annual county health rankings quantify vital health factors, including high school graduation rates, smoking, unemployment, access to healthy foods, the quality of air and water, income inequality and teen births in nearly every county in America, their website states.
“How can 18 miles (between Odessa and Midland) make that much of a difference,” Solla said. “There has to be an underlying cause to that, and I think one is what we have to offer, the investment we make as a community into preventative services.”
The Ector County Physical Activity Coalition was established in 2015 to address health outcome concerns for the community and promote healthy lifestyle behaviors, but former members say the group quietly dissolved.
Mathew said the coalition has not met for at least two years because of administrative changes at Medical Center Hospital. Meetings were previously facilitated by MCH’s community health department director at the time, Diana Ruiz, who is now an assistant professor at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin and the director of First 5.
Susan Thornton, MCH community relations coordinator, confirmed that the hospital was no longer involved with the coalition that partnered with numerous agencies like the Odessa Parks and Recreation Department and ECISD.
Solla said initiatives must be supported by local leaders to help move the needle on county health outcomes.
“A lot of projects, coalitions and boards establish without accomplishing much in relation to preventative health services in this area,” Ector County Health Department Director Gino Solla said.
The coalition’s website branded as Get Fit Ector remains accessible with information about the prevalence of unhealthy lifestyles and the need to educate the public.
Mathew said health concerns are often less of a priority for many residents in the county who are in survival mode and just trying to provide the basics and secure housing.
"The fault lies on both the public’s willingness to abide by things like smoking and drug reduction, but a lot of it has to do with how much money we invest (as a county)," Solla said. “As long as the leaders who can make the change are not willing to move toward that hard change then as a community you are going to stay where you are.”