×

Report: Maui County comes in second in Hawaii health rankings

Higher numbers for alcohol abuse and housing shortage are among state’s worst

Maui County jumped up one spot from last year to become the second healthiest county in the state, but residents continue to struggle with alcohol, and there remains a critical need for housing, as noted by an annual county health rankings report.

The report, released recently by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, ranked Honolulu as the healthiest county in the state, followed by Maui, Kauai and Hawaii island.

Maui County’s low point came in the form of alcohol use, where 53 percent of driving deaths were related to alcohol-impairment. The state’s average was 34 percent, while the country’s top performers had 13 percent of their driving deaths related to alcohol, based on data from 2013 to 2017.

Also, 20 percent of Maui County adults reported binge or heavy drinking. The percentage was the same for the state, and top U.S. performers reported the number at 13 percent. Data used for this health factor was from 2016.

Arkie Koehl, chairman of the public policy committee for Mothers Against Drunk Driving Hawaii, said the state’s numbers are always high when it comes to drinking and driving.

“We’re always in the top 10, year after year after year,” he said.

One of the reasons why so many people drink and drive, he said, is because for regular DUI charges there is no probation sentence in Hawaii. Violators may be jailed, fined or even given community service, but a judge does not order them to refrain from drinking for a probation period.

And while licenses can be revoked, those who want to drive during that revocation period may obtain an ignition interlock device, Koehl said. This is where drivers blow into the device to ensure their sobriety, otherwise the vehicle will not start.

Koehl says that process works well.

“Those are people who wish to drive legally during their period of license revocation,” he said. “That’s only about one out of five people who get arrested.”

Koehl said that the other four people don’t care if their license is revoked or not, they will still drive. Koehl said it is that type of attitude that still has people drinking and driving.

From the time MADD came on the scene in the 1980s and up until 2000, there was a decrease in drinking and driving, he said.

Since 2000, that has plateaued.

MADD educated the population in the first 20 years and people understood the risks, Koehl said, but it still “left the bums who just drink and drive because they can.”

These who drink and drive do not read newspapers and do not pay attention to public service announcements or educational outreach, he added.

Maui Police Department Lt. William Hankins, commander of the Traffic Section, recognizes that under-the-influence driving deaths are also high across the nation.

On Maui, the department is increasing sobriety checkpoints and also conducting “saturation patrols” where traffic officers saturate one area to look for impaired and reckless drivers.

The section is also getting more officers into a program where they can recognize drivers under the influence of drugs.

Drivers may know that police will be out in force during major holidays, but Hankins warns that “it’s any time of the year this can happen.”

Another sore spot for the county is housing, where 31 percent of Maui County residents reported “severe housing problems.”

The study defined this as the percentage of households with at least one of four housing problems: overcrowding, high housing costs, lack of kitchen facilities or lack of plumbing facilities. The study used data from 2011 to 2015 for this measurement.

Overall in Hawaii, 28 percent of households reported severe housing problems, while the number for top U.S. performers was 9 percent.

Maui County also suffers from a lack of mental health providers, where the ratio of the population to a mental health provider is 630 to 1. In the state it is 430 to 1; top U.S. performers are 310 to 1.

Maui County was more in line with top U.S. performers in the area of overall quality of life. This included the percentage of adults reporting fair or poor health, which was 13 percent for Maui County. The state was at 14 percent; top U.S. performers were at 12 percent.

In Maui County, residents reported an average of 3.1 physically unhealthy days in the past 30 days. The state average was 3.4 days and top national performers were at three days.

Maui County had only 5 percent of those under 65 without health insurance, according to statistics from 2016. In Hawaii that percentage was at 4, with top U.S. performers at 6.

To view the report, go to www.countyhealthrankings.org.

* Melissa Tanji can be reached at mtanji@mauinews.com.