Orleans falls to 2nd from bottom in health ranking of counties

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 27 March 2014 at 11:13 am

High smoking rate, limited access to health professionals among factors

ALBION – Orleans County ranks as one of the most unhealthy counties in the state for a number of reasons that include adult smoking rates, obesity, poverty, access to medical professionals and other issues.

The county was rated 61 out of 62 counties for “Health Factors.” Only the Bronx fared worse in the annual County Health Rankings report that provides a community health profile of about 3,000 counties in the United States.

The report looks at health outcomes – rates of premature death, low-birthweight babies and days of poor physical and mental health. The “health factors” category includes alcohol and tobacco use, diet and risky sexual behavior.

Orleans was rated 61st for Health Factors. The county did better with Health Outcomes, coming in at 49th. That was an improvement from 52nd in 2013. Paul Pettit, the county public health director, wants to see the county’s numbers improve.

“We all have to work together and take our part in this,” he said. “It will take more than one organization.”

Other nearby rural counties were rated much healthier than Orleans. Livingston was the top rated county for Health Outcomes, and was 12th in Health Factors. Genesee was 27th for Heath Outcomes and 26th for Health Factors. Wyoming was 16th for Health Outcomes and 31st for Health Factors.

The Orleans Health Department is working collaboratively with Genesee and Wyoming on some initiatives. While Orleans has about 42,000 people, the three counties together have about 150,000. The bigger population number may help the three secure grant funds for public health initiatives. The funders often direct money to more populated areas where they believe they can have a bigger impact on more people, Pettit said.

Some of Orleans’ dismal rankings are due to poverty issues, and Pettit said those factors will take work and resources from government, non-profit organizations, busineses, the faith community and individuals to improve.

“We need all of the stakeholders working together,” he said.

Orleans ranks 61st out of 62 for access to clinical care, including primary care physicians with 4,262 to 1 (compared to a state average of 1,216 to 1), dentists with 5,088 to 1 (compared to 1,362 to 1 in NY) and mental health providers with 2,694 to 1 (compared to 525 to 1 in NY).

Pettit said that those numbers don’t tell the whole story and only measure clinical professionals within the county. Many residents have reasonably close access to professionals in the Rochester and Buffalo area, which is about a 45-minute drive, Pettit said.

Other factors could be reduced with better personal choices and public education. The county’s adult smoking rate of 29 percent is far above the NY average of 17 percent. The adult obesity rate in Orleans is 32 percent, which also tops the state average of 24 percent. Orleans also exceeds the state average in alcohol-impaired driving deaths, with 32 percent compared to 24 percent in the state.

To see the full report, click here.