Promoting a Healthy Delta
The Delta Regional Authority is committed to improving health outcomes throughout the Delta region. Our belief is that health is an economic engine and will drive future economic growth. However, the growing incidence of chronic disease in Delta communities poses a threat to the lives, livelihoods, productivity, and economic vitality of the Delta region. In recent years, there have been studies commissioned by Harvard University’s School of Public Health and other institutions that show a direct correlation between economic vitality and health, measured through changes in life expectancy, emphasizing the link between poor health outcomes and poverty.
- Compared with national rates, deaths in the Delta region from circulatory diseases are 16 percent higher, deaths from cancer are 12 percent higher, and deaths from accidents are 39 percent higher.
- More than 32% of adults in the Delta report that they are obese and almost 12% report that they have diabetes.
- 230 counties and parishes within the Delta region are considered Health Professional Shortage Areas (HPSAs) by the US Department of Health and Human Services.
- 95 counties and parishes in the Delta region do not have a Federally Qualified Health Center.
In April 2010, the DRA released a policy framework for addressing the healthcare needs of its populations in the “Growing a Healthy Workforce in the Delta” Action Plan. With that framework the DRA has dramatically expanded funding and programming to grow healthcare infrastructure to increase access to healthcare and expand the quality of equipment and services local healthcare centers can provide to Delta residents.
There is a grave need for accurate information regarding healthcare and wellness in Delta communities. The Healthy Delta Research Database provides uniform, reliable, easy-to-use, and, most importantly, up-to-date data for local leadership to use in benchmarking their health and healthcare improvements over time. The database offers data reports for individual counties and parishes, for each state in the Delta region, and for the region as a whole, all of which increase the quality of health and wellness information and guide public health officials in best serving Delta communities.
The Delta Regional Authority partners with the U.S. Department of Defense for its Innovative Readiness Training (IRT) program to bring free medical, dental, and optical care to the Delta region. The purpose of the IRT program is to improve military readiness while simultaneously providing quality services to communities throughout America. By utilizing their extensive resources, the military is able to meet some of the region’s most urgent civil needs, including expanding access to basic healthcare. DRA works closely with Delta communities and the Department of Defense to assist with the application process as well as planning and implementation. The DRA also serves on the advisory board for the IRT program, allowing for significant input into site selection and program development.
To increase access to quality healthcare, the Delta Regional Authority oversees the Delta Doctors program, which recruits foreign physicians who are trained in this country to work in medically underserved areas for three years through a J-1 visa waiver. Those in the Delta Doctors program do not take jobs away from U.S.-born physicians. Instead, they provide critical medical services in areas with a physician shortage. To date, the DRA has placed more than 250 physicians in high-need communities within the Delta region through the Delta Doctors program.
The relationship between health and economic development goes beyond the fact that healthy people live longer and are therefore able to be productive members of society for a longer period of time. Healthy people also show up regularly for work and they cost their employers less in healthcare. Their productivity and quality of work is higher. Good health, increased life expectancy and the overall well-being of our communities directly impacts economic development efforts in the region. In taking action to improve the health of our region's workforce, the DRA launched the Healthy Workforce Challenge, providing $500,000 in funding to organizations for programs that use innovation and creative programming to improve the health and wellness of our community and workforce within a workplace setting. This funding leverages additional grant money through the US Health Resources and Services Administration’s Delta States Rural Development Network grant program.