In 2008, an assessment of needs in Comal County was created to show community trends ranging from health and well-being to housing and crime. Six years later, an update to the Comal County Needs Assessment was put together, finding some promising trends — such as the number of teenagers arrested for a violent crime dropping significantly over the past few years — but some that were cause for concern — including the lack of geriatric care providers or the median rents in the area.

A presentation of the 2014 update was hosted at the McKenna Events Center on Monday. 

Laura McKieran, associate professor of management, policy and community health at the University of Texas (UT) Health Science Center at Houston, led the discussion.

McKieran is also part of the Community Information Now — abbreviated CI:Now — which is a partnership of multiple public, private, government, educational and healthcare entities that provide tools to turn data into information communities can use to improve well-being. 

The assessment found that the percentage of the population at least 25 years or older that have a Bachelor’s degree has risen from 21.3 percent in 2010 to 24.5 percent in 2013, a good sign. The percentage of the same population that did not complete high school also fell a few points, however, that number is still near 10 percent.

As for per capita income, the estimated increase from 2006 has been 8.84 percent. According to the Social Security Administration’s website, since 2006 the total cost-of-living adjustments in relation to the previous year totaled 23.5 percent, something our income increases have not kept pace with.

About 11 percent of people in Comal County live in poverty, according to the assessment. That number is significantly higher — 16.6 percent — for those under the age of 18. McKieran said often both children and seniors are more likely than the rest of the population to live in poverty, but seniors in Comal County were found to be more well-off, on average, than any other population.

Most of the monthly owner costs as a percentage of household income in the county were good — with 53 percent of households seeing housing costs of less than 20 percent of their household income. But 20 percent see housing costs at over 30 percent of their income.

“This concerns me,” McKieran said. “The general rule of thumb is you don’t want your housing costs to be more than 30 percent of your income, and we have over 20 percent of housing units where the mortgage cost is more than 30 percent (of income),” she said.

For those renting, that number is even worse. Over 42 percent of households renting in the county have monthly housing costs over 30 percent of their monthly income.

“That’s a tough market — they can’t get into a house and their rent is breaking the bank,” McKieran said.

Both property and violent crimes have either remained stagnant or dropped slightly, according to the assessment, since 2007, including those reported by New Braunfels Police Department and Comal County Sheriff’s Office. Family violence, meanwhile, is down significantly at almost half the rate it was in 2007. Juvenile crime is also down since 2008, though McKieran said these numbers could be subject to variables such as policies and awareness initiatives.

As for health, if Comal County continues to follow its trend, 35 percent of the population will be obese by 2040, about ten percent higher than the current estimated amount. The same can be said of the estimated percent of the population with diabetes in 25 years.

McKieran said she knows New Braunfels, as a community, has been advocating wellness — including eating healthy and exercising — but the fact that the health numbers have not moved much is indicative of how hard it is to push people in that direction.

While the number of family medicine and family practice physicians per 100,000 residents in the county has increased, as has the number of pediatrics, the amount of obstetricians and gynecologists per 100,000 residents has decreased. Those listed as specialists in geriatric medicine remains at zero, though family practice physicians often provide geriatric care.

McKieran pointed out that while the research presented helps show overall trends, some of the numbers have variances due to things such as sample size and the use of secondary data, so the assessment reflects data estimates.

The same information presented Monday morning was also presented to the UWCC board of directors, both area hospitals and numerous nonprofits.

In 2007, the United Way of Comal County (UWCC) secured the financial support of the City of New Braunfels, Kronkosky Foundation, McKenna Health System and Carmage and Martha Ann Walls Foundation to support a county-wide assessment, now known as the Comal Community Needs Assessment. Later that year, the UWCC signed a contract with UT’s School of Public Health to conduct the assessment. Another contract was recently signed with UT to update the data in the 2008 assessment, an update that was presented on Monday.

The organizations that supported the update include CHRISTUS Santa Rosa Hospital - New Braunfels, City of New Braunfels, McKenna Foundation, New Braunfels Area Community Foundation, Resolute Health, and the United Ways of Comal and Guadalupe counties.

 To read the full report, visit http://www.uwcomal.org/, then click on the “Comal Community Needs Assessment” link at the bottom of the page.

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