Tacoma area fares worst on preventable hospital stays; Eastside comes out best

The study, released last week by the state Office of Financial Management, examined a variety of hospital stays that generally might be avoided with proper care, including regular checkups and vaccinations.

South Sound residents wind up hospitalized more than anyone else in Washington for ailments that could be easily prevented — such as diabetes mismanagement or dehydration — at a cost of millions of dollars, according to a state study.

The study, released last week by the state Office of Financial Management, examined a variety of hospital stays that might generally have been avoided with proper care, including regular checkups and vaccinations, from 2013 to 2015.

Of the nearly 150,000 hospitalizations studied, almost every area with more than the state average was in the southwest quarter of Washington.

The results are in line with other analyses — including a 2016 study of life-expectancy rates — that show Washington’s worst public-health situation is found in Tacoma and points directly south.

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The two areas in the state that had hospitalization rates better than the state average for all 11 conditions the study examined were in King County: the 46th Legislative District, which is mostly in Seattle, and the Eastside’s 41st District, which includes Bellevue and Mercer Island.

Underlying reasons for the South Sound region’s troubles, experts said, are a complex mix of poverty, lack of access to everyday medical care, poor public nutrition and other factors ranging from cultural to economic.

“Poor health behaviors wind up having long-term consequences,” said Joe Campo, a senior research analyst who compiled the study for the state.

The result: The region generally, and especially an area from Tacoma to Lakewood and Spanaway, is worse at keeping people out of the hospital than poor rural districts in the eastern half of the state.

The expense is huge. The official cost of all these preventable hospital stays runs to about $487 million a year, the study found. Actual bills usually run higher than estimated costs, which are used to calculate reimbursements.

Possible remedies, whether through small programs or big ones, have been delayed for want of money.

State and local health agencies got a fraction of what they wanted for community-health programs, such as preventing communicable diseases and improving maternal care.

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