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In this Dec. 9, 2016, file photo, Angie O'Meara, a CNA at the McLean County Nursing Home, watches as Heidi German, a registered nurse with the McLean County Health Department, draws a syringe of flu vaccine as the health department inoculated employees at the nursing home.

DAVID PROEBER, PANTAGRAPH FILE PHOTO

BLOOMINGTON — Four Pantagraph-area counties ranked in the top 20 of Illinois' 102 counties, according to a respected, nationwide measure that ranks the health of residents by county.

"We're showing overall improvements in our rankings," said Cathy Coverston Anderson, interim director of the McLean County Health Department.

McLean County ranked 19th in the eighth annual County Health Rankings by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. It was 22nd last year.

"Our scores have improved but it's not all about the scores," Coverston Anderson said Tuesday. "The County Health Rankings are wonderful to have but it's a piece of the puzzle."

Other Pantagraph-area counties in the top 20 are Woodford, 10th; Piatt, 15th; and Tazewell, 20th.

The complete report is at www.countyhealthrankings.org.

"It's always nice to move up a bit," said Linda Rhodes, health education and marketing director of the Livingston County Health Department. Livingston County moved up from 51st to 48th.

The rankings are a measure of how counties are doing on more than 30 factors, including rates of premature death, percentage of people in poor physical and mental health, percentage of low birth weight babies, smoking and obesity rates, physical inactivity, excessive drinking, access to health care and unemployment and education levels.

McLean County's adult smoking rate declined to 14 percent and high school graduation rate improved to 88 percent. The county ranked first statewide in clinical care, which includes percentage of uninsured (7 percent), and ratio of primary-care physicians and dentists to patients.

"But we know that people aren't always able to access that care and that we do not have enough mental health providers," Coverston Anderson said.

In addition, McLean County's obesity rate of 29 percent was higher than the state and national averages and the excessive drinking rate also was higher.

The county's health plan already has earmarked obesity, access to health care and mental health/substance abuse as areas for improvement, Coverston Anderson noted.

Woodford County, which ranked sixth last year, dropped in length of life and premature death and in poor physical and mental health as its percentage of uninsured dropped to 6 percent, said Woodford County Health Department Administrator Hillary Aggertt.

Woodford County is working to improve healthy eating and active living, behavioral health, cancer care and reproductive health, Aggertt said.

"We're trying to create positive behaviors to improve the quality of life," she said.

In Livingston County, the premature death rate decreased, the high school graduate rate rose and the obesity and physical inactivity rates dropped, Rhodes said.

"We still need to work on alcohol-impaired driver deaths and injury deaths," she said. "We have a heroin addiction intervention in our county, which hopefully will work to reduce injury deaths."

David Remmert, administrator for the DeWitt-Piatt Bi-County Health Department, noted the disparity between the two counties, with Piatt ranking 15th and DeWitt 74th. He noted that socioeconomic factors — such as high school graduation rates, children in poverty and income inequality — play roles in the rankings.

"As you try to move the ball forward, you must try to eliminate boundaries between service providers — including hospitals, mental health providers and schools — to provide a better system of care to address those socioeconomic realities," Remmert said.

Rhodes said, "As individuals, we can all take some responsibility with healthier eating, being more physically active and having designated drivers when people are using alcohol outside the home."

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Health Editor

Health Editor for The Pantagraph.

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