2021 | News

UPDATED: Survey of low-income, immigrant residents finds strong demand for health care center

More than 1,300 people were surveyed in Gaithersburg, Montgomery Village

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This story and headline were updated at 12:15 p.m. on Oct. 15, 2021, to correct the number of residents surveyed. Cross Community previously gave the number of respondents at about 1,600, after inadvertently double counting those who responded in English as also respondents in Spanish.

A survey of more than 1,300 low-income, immigrant residents of Gaithersburg and Montgomery Village found that there is a strong demand for a community health care center. Respondents wanted a center to be part of the redevelopment of the Lakeforest Mall site.

The Gaithersburg nonprofit Cross Community, which works on issues related to racial equity, conducted the survey between June and August. The goal was to determine how low-income, immigrant communities in Gaithersburg and Montgomery Village might be struggling, and how to best help them in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

One question in the survey was what participants most wanted to see at the Lakeforest Mall site. Last month, the Gaithersburg City Council unanimously passed a master plan for the site that outlines a mix of residential and commercial uses for the property.

Of the survey’s participants, about 84% were Hispanic or Latino, about 9% were Black, slightly less than 5% were white and about 3% were another ethnicity. It was conducted in English and Spanish.

There were 992 Spanish speakers and 312 English speakers who participated.

The top three responses for Lakeforest Mall among all participants in the survey were:

  1. An affordable health care center
  2. A sports and recreation center
  3. Parks/green space

The combined responses of all participants were similar to those given by Spanish speakers, who listed their top three priorities for Lakeforest as a health care center, parks/green space and a sports and recreation center.

English speakers, however, listed a sports and recreation center as their top priority for Lakeforest, followed by restaurants, affordable housing and local stores.

The survey also found that:

  • 87% of participants make less than $40,000 a year and say they don’t earn half of what is needed to live in the county.
  • 5% say they don’t have enough income to meet their family’s needs
  • More than half of those surveyed get food from free meal distributions in the county
  • More than one-third of participants say they don’t have enough to eat
  • More than 80% of those surveyed said they don’t have enough money to cover a $500 emergency

“There’s still something that is broken in [Gaithersburg and Montgomery Village] and other similar communities,” Cross Community Executive Director Ben Wikner said.

Wikner noted that Montgomery County is the 17th wealthiest county in the United States, according to the Census Bureau.

“And we have this massive commitment to help those in need. But the pandemic has …. exposed the reality that there’s still a significant problem, and it has deepened, that need,” he said.

The survey was conducted both virtually and in-person, and focused on the ZIP codes of 20886 and 20877.

Several Montgomery County and Gaithersburg officials were on Wednesday’s call.

Diana Tato-Niktash, the food security plan program manager for the county’s health department, said she wanted to see the full results of the survey.

She hopes to include them in the county’s community health needs assessment, which is conducted every six years. The last assessment was conducted in 2016. The health department is working on the next one.

“And I think that these survey needs results will be very, very good part of that process,” she said.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com