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Assessing emergency healthcare accessibility in the Salton Sea region of Imperial County, California

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The area surrounding California’s Salton Sea, which lies within Riverside and Imperial counties, has particularly negative health outcomes. Imperial County, a primarily rural region that encompasses the lake, has pediatric asthma-related emergency healthcare visits that double the state average. This paper seeks to assess the level of emergency healthcare access in the Salton Sea region of Imperial County, drawing from spatial science methods. For this study, the "Salton Sea region" is defined as all Imperial County census tracts that include the Salton Sea within its boundaries. To measure "access," this study calculated driving travel times from census tracts to hospitals within Imperial County rather than Euclidean distance to account for geography and urban infrastructures such as road networks and traffic conditions. This study also used the Rational Agent Access Model, or RAAM, to assess access. RAAM scores account for the supply and demand for hospitals in addition to travel times. Results showed that the average travel time for Salton Sea region residents to drive to Imperial County emergency healthcare facilities ranged from 50–61 minutes, compared to 14–20 minutes for other Imperial County tracts. RAAM scores, compared to other Imperial County tracts, were about 30% higher in the Salton Sea region, meaning that healthcare supply is limited in the region. State and county policy should account for spatial inaccessibility to healthcare institutions in order to address emergency healthcare access.

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