Health rankings: County has work to do

Published 2:00am Saturday, March 30, 2013

Ranks and scores for each of Alabama’s 67 counties were released last week showing where each area stands in areas of health outcomes and factors — a list where Escambia County ranks in the bottom half of the state.
With an overall ranking of 46, Escambia County’s numbers may appear grim and disconcerting, but some officials say it isn’t as bad as it looks.
Ruth Harrell, chair of the Coalition for a Healthier Escambia County, said the numbers aren’t great, but some figures could be deceiving.
“We really do have a lot of work to do to make our county healthier,” Harrell said. “But, even though the rankings look dismal, it could have been worse. Some of those figures are a little confusing, especially when you consider how the data was collected. It really isn’t as bad as it appears.”
In the report released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, indicators show county residents fall into 36th place for mortality and at 50th place for morbidity.
Mortality rates are determined by the years of potential life lost before the age of 75 due to health and lifestyle factors with morbidity rates based, in part, on low birth weight babies.
Dr. James Walker said part of the reason for low birth weight babies may be, in part, due to the increased push to have expectant mothers carry babies into and beyond the 39-week mark.
“In recent years, there has been a big push for moms to carry their babies longer,” Walker said. “In years past, babies were being delivered at 37 and a half weeks and later for a variety of reasons. That trend has slowed down in some areas, but there are doctors out there that still do that. The earlier in a pregnancy a baby is delivered the lower that birth weight tends to be. With doctors continuing to deliver before 39 weeks, you are going to see those low birth weight numbers on those lists.”
Harrell said the data used to create the report for Escambia County may or may not have been gathered in the best way possible to affect a relatively accurate result.
“We really need to look at the data and thing about it and how it was gathered,” Harrell said. “We need to get interested, not so much in the ranking, but in the road maps or causes for the answers giving on the survey used to collect the data.”
Harrell said the Coalition group is in the process of gathering their own information to compare and find some answers to benefit the county in areas of weakness.
“We are now involved in a process to administer an initial survey this year,” Harrell said. “We were not happy with the 2010 survey because of the way it was administered. It was only done during the daytime hours; so working people were left out the survey completely. We hope to be able to have the data from this year ready in the spring of next year. The results of that data will help the Coalition plan a health summit aimed a finding out where our problems are in the county and what we can do to correct them. We want to work with policy makers, health care providers and the general public to find out what the county profile looks like and create a road map to change our direction.”
In the report, 21 percent of the county population surveyed says they smoke with 36 percent labeled as obese. Health factors for the county, including smoking, drinking, and other preventable issues, ranked Escambia in 47th place.
Harrell said there are some numbers in the report that should be a source of pride for Escambia County residents.
“We have some things we can be really proud of in this report,” Harrell said. “Residents have shown improvement with following through on mammography screenings and diabetic screenings. That means that our residents are beginning to show more interest in preventative health care. That is a good sign.”
Harrell said one area of great concern is that in the report only 1 percent of residents in the county say they have access to parks.
“That is a figure of indictment for this county,” Harrell said. “The overall percentage for that area is 16 percent. We are seriously lacking in that area. But, we are working on that issue as we speak. The ‘Be Our Voice’ initiate has already seen work done at Fort Crawford, Atmore and Flomaton parks. We are working on those. The fact that the percentage is at 1 percent really jumps out. If there is a park available, people are a little more likely to use it. There is a very high correlation between the lack of access to parks and the higher percentage of obesity in this county.”
Harrell said although some of the data may not be an accurate portrayal of the general population with older, unemployed workers and Medicare recipients making up a large portion of those surveyed, it does give us a look at areas that need to be improved upon.
“There are road maps there that we need to look at to see the general direction we’re heading in as a county and as a state,” Harrell said. “This report gives us a tool to work with to make changes that will improve our health. We certainly have work to do.”

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