Clark County drops in health rankings

The county ranked 74th among Ohio’s 88 counties in the sixth annual County Health Rankings report released this week by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Last year, Clark County ranked 70th, its best showing since the survey began. The ranking is based on health outcomes, which measures both length and quality of life.

The county improved, though, on its health factors ranking and climbed to 58th in Ohio. That measure looks at behavior, clinical care, physical environment, and social and economic factors. Last year, the county ranked 65th.

Clark County Health Commissioner Charles Patterson was disappointed to see the county drop four spots, but said he was encouraged by the increase in health factors.

The county ranks worse than the national and state averages in premature death, physical inactivity, unemployment, the number of people without health insurance and the number of children in poverty, according to the report.

The county improved in several areas, including adult obesity, violent crime, air pollution and preventable hospital stays.

The heroin epidemic has been one of the main factors in the increase of premature deaths recently, Patterson said. The data used was from 2012, meaning the county will continue to struggle in that area over the next few years.

“We have to get over this mountain,” Patterson said.

Champaign County ranked 46th overall for health outcomes, down one spot from last year. However, the county was ranked 31st in health factors, up five spots from last year. The county is also working on a new community health improvement plan, Champaign County Health Commissioner Jeff Webb said.

Chronic disease can also lead to premature death, said Chris Cook, chief executive officer at the Rocking Horse Community Health Center. By making better choices about their health, people can live longer, he said.

“It’s a testament to the fact that health doesn’t just happen at your doctor’s office,” Cook said. “It happens everywhere — at home, at work and at the park. That’s where we have to target people to pay attention to their health.”

Clark County is fighting problems similar to the rest of the country when it comes to changing lifestyle habits, such as diet, exercise and smoking, Community Mercy Health Partners Market Leader and President Paul Hiltz said.

The key is joining with other organizations to solve community health issues, Hiltz said, such as for a health summit planned in the fall.

“You can probably never do enough, but if we all work together on promoting healthier lifestyles and healthier choices, we think that will make a big difference,” Hiltz said.

The Clark County health district is working with several partners, including Community Mercy, Rocking Horse, Mental Health and Recovery Board, McKinley Hall and the Springfield Fire/Rescue Division, to implement the most recent Community Health Improvement Plan, Patterson said.

The group is focused on improving five areas: healthy births and sexuality, obesity, chronic disease management, mental health and substance abuse.

“We’re focusing on many things that specifically will impact that ranking in health behaviors and get even better in the next five years,” Patterson said.

One group has targeted middle school students to promote physical activity, but they now want to focus to preschoolers.

“We’re trying to build those healthy habits early in life,” Patterson said.

They’re also collecting data for the next health assessment and improvement plan, which will be released in early 2016. The health district is changing the type of programs it’s doing to make a difference, Patterson said, but that can often be a decade-long process.

“We have to start some place and that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

“We’re encouraged that it’s improved a little bit, but we’ve got a long ways to go,” he said.

With the aging population and economic demographics in Clark County, the ranking isn’t surprising, said Phil Teusink of Springfield, who was lifting weights at Springfield Family YMCA on Friday afternoon.

The community has plenty of alternatives to get healthy, said Springfield resident John McKinnon, who also was working out at the Y on Friday.

“You’ve got the Y and other places, plenty of options for sports,” he said. “If you go to the reservoir in the evening, you’ll see lots of people walking and biking.”

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