Lenawee County ranks in top quarter of healthiest counties in state-wide survey
By MARY KAY McPARTLINEvery year the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute study a variety of health factors for each county in the nation. The goal of the study, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is to show the majority of health factors occur outside medical facilities. In results of the 2013 study released on March 20, Lenawee County was ranked 19 out of 82 Michigan counties.The rankings take into account a variety of health factors and, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, measure “the rate of people dying before age 75, high school graduation rates, unemployment, limited access to healthy foods, air and water quality, income, and rates of smoking, obesity and teen births.”“Everyone strives to be number one,” said Patsy Bourgeois, health officer for the Lenawee County Health Department. She explained the Health Department takes the rankings seriously, and uses them to assess needs and make improvements within the county through available services and outreach.“The Health Department is committed to doing everything we can with our resources to make a positive impact,” Bourgeois said. She believes the recently formed Lenawee Health Network will continue to assist the Health Department in creating helpful health programs and policies within the county. “It’s a very large, diverse group,” said Bourgeois.The State of Michigan, according to Bourgeois, is encouraging counties to focus on bringing down the numbers on obesity and infant mortality. Lenawee County had a program in place where health experts made home visits to women with the potential for problem pregnancies. Then the reimbursements from insurance, as well as state funding, were cut.“In Lenawee County we had to eliminate that program,” Bourgeois explained regretfully.Because of the amount of data found in the study, it will take the health department several weeks to review the information. “We really haven’t had a chance to delve into it deeply,” said Bourgeois. “We really do read it in more detail.”The basic information found in the study is that Lenawee County is still in the top 24 counties with regard to its overall ranking of 19, but the numbers have dropped compared with last year’s overall ranking of 13.Bourgeois explained the health department looks at two areas in particular found in the study, health behaviors and physical environment. For Lenawee County, in 2013 the county dropped six places from 22 in 2012 to 28 in 2013.This area includes information about adult smoking, adult obesity, physical inactivity, excessive drinking, the motor vehicle crash death rate, adult smoking, and sexually transmitted infections.Bourgeois said the physical environment category saw a 38 rank drop from 2012. In 2013 Lenawee County was ranked 74 compared to 22 in 2012. This category studies daily fine particulate matter and drinking water safety (not included in last year’s study), access to recreational facilities, limited access to healthy foods, and fast food restaurants. There was a county-wide decrease in the amount of fast food restaurants by two percent, an increase in access to healthy foods by seven percent, as well as a decrease in recreational facilities which fell from 20 to seven.Bourgeois said the health department plans to release more information as the topic is studied within the health department as well as by the members of the Lenawee Health Network. The organizations will also discuss what programs can be added to the health department to improve problem areas found in the study.Study results for all the states and counties can be found at countyhealthrankings.org.