The trade group for New Jersey’s 71 acute-care hospitals published a new report Nov. 23, outlining some of the communities worst-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps not surprisingly, many of those communities are the same that have previously fared poorly for other health and quality of life standards.
Tuesday’s report from the New Jersey Hospital Association, titled the “New Jersey Vulnerable Communities Disease” database, was first published in 2019 and ranked state zip codes by 20 metrics used to gauge overall community health. In 2021, some of the worst-performing communities – zip codes from Atlantic City, Camden, Newark, Paterson and Trenton, for example – also had some of the highest rates of COVID-19.
The NJHA noted that at the time the report was first issued, COVID-19 was not a concern in New Jersey and essentially threw a curveball at public and community health. But, the relationships were laid bare, the group said, with many of those communities identified as hardest hit by the pandemic the same that have fared poorly for other health and quality of life standards, including lower education levels, widespread poverty, lack of access to healthy foods, higher unemployment, dependence on public assistance, lower life expectancy and the prevalence of chronic health conditions such as heart disease, hypertension and diabetes.
The top 10 worst-performing communities in the 2021 report included four zip codes from Camden, three from Newark, and one each from Atlantic City, Paterson and Trenton.
Communities that fared poorly in the 2019 study notched some of the state’s highest COVID-19 hospitalization rates this year, when looking at hospitalizations per 1,000 residents.
“If you overlay a map of the most vulnerable zip codes identified by this data, they are very much aligned with the areas that suffered the highest toll of illness during COVID,” reads a prepared statement from Cathy Bennett, who heads the NJHA.
All of those communities are predominantly lower-income, with Black and brown-majority residents. They suffered much higher rates of COVID-19, higher hospitalizations and fatalities, and lagged behind their white counterpart communities in vaccination rates.
In these communities, household incomes were on average just above $41,000 a year, while 1 in every 10 residents was unemployed, the report found. One in 4 residents did not graduate high school while 1 in every 6 households had limited English proficiency.
Meanwhile, 1 in 4 households were on food assistance, and located in so-called “food deserts,” without any access to healthy sources of food. Four in 10 residents had Medicaid and 1 in 7 individuals did not have any kind of health coverage, the report found.
One in 8 individuals were contending with some kind of disability, while there was a higher prevalence of chronic health conditions, mental health and substance abuse disorders. And they had a life expectancy three-and-a-half years shorter than the statewide average, which as of 2019 was 80.7 years, according to the New Jersey Department of Health.
“This data reinforces a critical lesson: When it comes to population health, the health of the entire state is inextricably linked to the health of our most vulnerable,” Bennett continued.