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New study aims to spur county health leaders to improve outcomes
e-Reports, May 17, 2010
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Thomas Pechin, M.D.
Thomas Pechin, M.D.

A newly released national report grading the influences on health in every county has given physicians and health officials data highlighting a need for action.

The first-ever county health rankings survey results were released by the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Each county was ranked on factors such as smoking, obesity, binge drinking, access to primary care providers, rates of high school graduation and violent crime, air pollutions levels, liquor store density, unemployment rates and number of children living in poverty.

LaGrange County Health Officer Thomas Anthony Pechin, M.D., said his staff will be reviewing the report, which ranked LaGrange the fifth healthiest county in the state.

“There are certain things about this survey that are out of our control,” noted Dr. Pechin. “For example, we have a high Amish population that doesn’t have health insurance and doesn’t utilize primary care physicians.”

However, the county was ranked high for its low rates in morbidity and mortality.

“Every county has to look at its own numbers,” he said. “It’s important for physicians to shape the data to make meaningful decisions.”

Thomas Pechin, M.D.
Ted Waflart, M.D.

Dubois County Health Officer Ted Waflart, M.D., attributes the county’s third place rank to a supportive community partnership.

“I was surprised that we ranked that high,” he said. “The people here are hard working and that carries into everything. I think it’s important to get leadership in the community involved.”

Dr. Waflart noted that smoking is prevalent in his community, which still does not have a smoke-free ordinance.

Delaware County pediatrician Anne Eliades, M.D., sees her community struggling with both obesity and smoking. The county ranked 81st in the survey.

“We have too many kids greater than the 95th percentile for BMI for age,” she commented. “The literature suggests that the problem doesn't start in childhood but during pregnancy. We need to work hard at having pregnant women not gain more than the recommended weight – as well as needing to work with children.”

Thomas Pechin, M.D.
Anne Eliades, M.D.

Dr. Eliades said health outcomes will not be changed unless communities address the roots of the problem. She plans to discuss the county’s health status in a meeting with state government leaders and local physicians.

“I don’t think we are ever going to get a handle on the medical costs if we don’t focus on prevention on the local level,” said Dr. Eliades. “Obesity starts with pregnancy, so we need a more effective health system for prevention. If we don’t try, nothing will happen.”

On the state level
State Health Commissioner Gregory Larkin, M.D., said the Indiana State Department of Health will be looking at the report as well.

“We want to help county health departments with their efforts by promoting an accreditation system that aligns with a national effort,” commented Dr. Larkin. “In the future, we may also encourage some counties to merge into one office so they have better resources. We don’t know how that will look yet, but we’re going to consider that.”

The Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) is a voluntary accreditation program that establishes standards for measuring performance. Read about PHAB by visiting the PHAB website.

Find more on the rankings on this website.

Two communities show you how to improve health costs through collaboration

Bloomington and Logansport have reduced health costs by 13 percent below the state average, and their example can help your town and others achieve the same results. The two towns simply utilized committees representing local government, hospitals, doctors, employers, businesses, schools and not-for-profits.

Through the collaboration, community health was placed on the same level of importance as economic development.

In Bloomington, the partnership resulted in:

  • Establishing a free clinic next to the hospital emergency room to treat non-emergency needs of the poor and uninsured
  • Launching an electronic network to exchange medical records
  • Establishing a coalition to promote walking to reduce obesity
  • Rewarding physicians for managing patients’ health
  • Collecting body-mass index (BMI) data on local grade-schoolers

Logansport leaders collaborated to:

  • Build a public walking trail
  • Record BMI measurements in local schools and make changes in food choices to encourage better eating
  • Offer a local fitness club
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