Orleans wants to improve dismal health rankings

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 21 March 2014 at 12:00 am

County ranks near bottom in many health categories

Photo by Tom Rivers – Paul Pettit, Orleans County Health Department director, talks about the county’s health rankings and a community health assessment and improvement plan during an Albion Rotary Club meeting on Thursday.

ALBION – Orleans County health officials want to engage a broad base of the community to improve many health factors and indicators in the county, which rank near the bottom among the 62 counties in the state.

The Health Department can’t do it alone and needs help from non-profit organizations, civic groups and businesses to have a healthier county, said Paul Pettit, the county’s health department director.

Ultimately, it will come down to individuals making healthy choices, such as not smoking, exercising and eating nutritious foods, he told the Albion Rotary Club on Thursday.

“It will take a group effort and you, as an individual, to move these numbers in a positive direction,” he said.

Orleans fares among the worst in the state for access to primary care physicians and dentists, while its residents have high rates of smoking and adult obesity. An annual County Health Rankings report also says Orleans residents choose fast food at a rate above the state and national averages.

Overall, the report ranks Orleans as the 52nd healthiest county out of 62.

The annual County Health Rankings report 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 ranked 52nd in health outcomes, 57th in health factors, 58th in health behaviors, 62nd in access to clinical care, 45th in social and economic factors and 50th in physical environment, which includes air quality, drinking water safety and access to recreational facilities, healthy foods and fast food.

A new report is due next week. Pettit was given a sneak peak at the data and he said the county hasn’t shown much improvement in the categories.

Orleans has a plan that will help improve the health of residents, said Nola Goodrich-Kreese, the county’s public health educator. The county finished a Community Health Improvement Plan (click here) and also a Community Health Assessment (click here). Both were done in collaboration with Genesee and Wyoming counties. The three counties together have about 150,000 residents.

The counties established priorities that include preventing chronic diseases; reducing obesity; reducing illnesses, disabilities and deaths related to tobacco use and second-hand smoke exposures; and strengthening infrastructure for mental health.

Orleans is seeking grants for diabetes prevention, is seeking to replicate Genesee County’s Get Fit! community exercise program, is working with Smoke-Free Now to reduce tobacco exposure, and will try to increase awareness of mental health services in the county and in the region.

The three counties surveyed 1,700 residents and they listed their top concerns as cancer, 45.5 percent; heart disease, 44.0 percent and depression, 41.7 percent.

Statewide the following were identified as public health priorities: Prevent chronic diseases; promote healthy and safe environments; promote healthy women, infants and children; promote mental health and prevent substance abuse; and prevent HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, vaccine-preventable diseases and healthcare associated infections.