An updated report on healthcare trends in West Michigan showed that non-white individuals are less likely to have health insurance, women are more likely to keep unused prescription medication and nurse burnout is affecting how facilities are staffed.
Grand Valley State University hosted its annual West Michigan Health Care Economic Forecast event featuring data and findings from its annual Health Check report. Erkmen Aslim and Daniel Montanera, assistant professors of economics from the Seidman College of Business at GVSU, presented key findings during a panel discussion Thursday, Feb. 3.
A recording of the event, which also included a panel discussion with various health system leaders, along with the full Health Check report will be posted to the GVSU website next week.
The report analyzes several healthcare trends in the KOMA region, which consists of Kent, Ottawa, Muskegon and Allegan counties.
Using data from the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance system, the researchers analyzed health insurance data and risky behaviors among white and non-white KOMA residents. They found that non-white residents were less likely to have health insurance.
Aslim noted that more than 20 percent of non-white individuals in KOMA report having no insurance, which is almost 10 percentage points higher than non-white individuals in Detroit. He added that non-white males are more likely to be uninsured.
Cost is also a barrier to accessing healthcare for non-white individuals in KOMA, Aslmin said.
“There seems to be a non-negligible disparity between white and non-white individuals,” he said. “Historically, white individuals didn’t find cost to be a barrier. However, non-white individuals face these barriers, particularly in KOMA.”
This year’s Health Check included data on prescription pain medication differences by gender in the KOMA region for the first time.
The report shows that women are more likely to be prescribed pain medication, to be prescribed higher doses for longer periods of time and to keep unused medication.
For the KOMA region, more than 60 percent of women reported having leftover pain medication that they kept, 10 percentage points higher than men.
Aslim said the high percentage of people with leftover medication is concerning and that promoting drug takeback days and other methods of disposing of unused medication is a way to address the issue.
“This is particularly concerning because leftover pain medications, especially opioids, can lead to accidental poisoning or opioid misuse,” he said. “I think policy makers should increase patient awareness about proper ways of disposing unused pain medications.”
Aslim noted that he and two other professors did independent research looking at employment dynamics in nursing. The team looked at long-term care facilities specifically and found that hours for registered nurses saw a sharp decline after the initial weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, while nurse aid hours rose quickly.
“There seems to be a compositional change in nursing homes in the form of down-skilling,” he said. “In other words, more expensive RNs are replaced with less expensive nurse aids.”
Aslim suggested the reason for the shift is due to increased patient-to-nurse ratios leading to job dissatisfaction and burnout. He suggested policy changes putting a cap on these ratios as a way to combat burnout for nurses.