Montgomery County faces stubborn and, in some cases, worsening patterns of inequity across race, economic status, gender, and geography. At the Silver Spring Civic Center on Wednesday evening, March 6, WDC members and guests heard from two leading, local experts on the grave disparities for women in Montgomery County:
Diana Rubin, 2nd Vice President, Montgomery County Commission for Women and
Dr. Travis Gayles, M.D., County Health Officer and Chief of Public Health Services.
Our speakers presented on two troubling reports that detail uneven access and unequal outcomes across core issues such as health, education, economic security, and more. You can read the population health report here and the status of women report here. WDC Board member, Diana Edensword Conway, moderated the Q&A section that followed the presentation. The evening also offered suggestions for engagement on these critical challenges to our community. This event was broadcast on Facebook Live and can be viewed here. Diana Rubin led off sharing a few startling statistics from the Commission’s latest “Status of Women” report, which is issued every 10 years. Montgomery County is now a majority minority (56%) county. Women are generally doing well, and gains have been made in the 10 years since the last report. However, some deeply rooted problems remain. For example, the number of women living in poverty increased 66% in those ten years. Disparities in pay mean that Montgomery County women earn 82 cents on the dollar compared to men. Although we do better than the average American woman at 72 cents, this difference could be more actively addressed, especially because minority women are more likely to suffer this disparity. African American women are 65% more likely to suffer the death of a newborn. Ethnic and minority women are twice as likely to get breast and cervical cancer. While adolescent birthrates have declined 50%, domestic violence has doubled.
What can we do? WDC members should take advantage of the Commission for Women’s eight pages of recommendations, including family friendly labor policies, such as raising the minimum wage to 15 dollars, paid family leave, and banning the “what is your current salary?” question in job interviews.
Dr. Travis Gayles, a pediatrician specializing in adolescent and young adult health, has been in his county role for 1½ years. He said people often ask, why is data important, and he replies, “because it often tells a different story from what people think.” So, for example, while the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has named Montgomery County as the healthiest county in Maryland for several years, and while we outperform the rest of the counties, we do have problems. The report produced by Dr. Gayles’ team breaks down data by zip codes, which showed that there are seven zip codes in Montgomery County with outcomes worse than state averages. Because the State has not seen Montgomery County as high risk as a whole, our county has not been eligible for funding to tackle these disparities in the affected zip codes.
Maternal and infant health is an important area. Historically, Montgomery County’s infant death rate is 4.6 per 100,000, while the state’s rate is 6.3. However, this statistic masks the rate for minority infants that is 8.3/100,000. In one surprising finding, one of the wealthiest zip codes had some of the worst health outcomes, with 10-15 years of lost life. Dr. Gayles told the assembled about Montgomery Cares, a program of 10 clinics that provide care for residents without access to health insurance.
Some of the topics affecting health outcomes that arose during the questions and comments included: food insecurity, stress, institutional racism, limited hospice availability, and the plethora of medical record systems. WDC has established legislative priorities that include some of these issues. We urge you to read both reports for yourselves and share them with your networks.