Richland County slipped seven spots, from 57th to 64th, among Ohio’s 88 counties in the annual Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute health rankings, released Tuesday.
Just one place ahead of Richland County is Crawford County in 63rd, while Knox County ranked 38th and Ashland County ranked 21st.
Delaware County retained the No. 1 spot, five years running.
“This report is a call to action for leaders, residents, and community changemakers to take these national findings, dig into local data to better understand the health of your own community, and implement strategies to create communities where everyone has a fair and just chance to lead the healthiest life possible,” according to the 2019 County Health Rankings Key Findings Report.
The overall health outcome rankings are based on various health-related measures, including adult obesity (31 percent of Richland County’s population), access to exercise opportunities (77 percent), children in poverty (20 percent), among other measures.
The report’s trend data shows Richland County has improved over the years with certain measures, including the percentage of uninsured people under the age 65 (7 percent), rate of preventable hospital stays per 100,000 Medicare enrollees (5,059), as well as density of air pollution (11.3 micrograms of particulate matter per cubic meter), to name a few.
Negative trends were reported with the growing number of sexually transmitted infections (483.1 newly diagnosed chlamydia cases per 100,000 population), increase in violent crime (237 reported violent crime offenses per 100,000), among others.
Perhaps one of the most glaring health outcomes in the report is the increase in premature mortality, with 9,800 years of potential life lost due to deaths before the age of 75 per 100,000, according to the report.
|Leading Causes of Death Under Age 75||Deaths||Age-Adjusted Rate per 100,000|
|Diseases of heart||394||85.6|
|Accidents (unintentional injuries)||222||69.9|
|Chronic lower respiratory diseases||111||22.2|
(Data taken from the county rankings report)
According to the report, “Premature mortality includes all deaths among people under age 75 and the rates are age-adjusted to the U.S. 2000 population. Since counties have different age make-ups, age-adjustment can help in comparing health measures between counties.”
Richland County ranks 69th in the state in length of life. Martin Tremmel, Richland County's health commissioner, called this a major red flag.
“When the top U.S. performers have a rate of 5,400 premature deaths and we’re almost twice that at 9,800 — 1,300 more than Ohio at 8,500 — this is a problem,” Tremmel said.
Why that is could vary. Possible culprits may include general economic and health factors, as well as the increase in suicides (Richland County saw a record number of suicides in 2018 with 22 suicides) and the opioid epidemic, Tremmel said.
The report shows the flu vaccination rate in Richland County is 41 percent, compared to 47 percent statewide and 52 percent in top U.S. performers.
“It makes little sense from a public health lens to know why we’re 10 percent lower in flu vaccines in this county than most other counties, and we have flu vaccines available on every corner, including this health department still having some in stock that aren’t being utilized,” Tremmel said. “That is a problem.”
The county’s ranking, albeit bleak, starts a conversation as to where the community can improve.
“This is a reminder that we can certainly do better,” Tremmel said.
Later this year, Richland Public Health will assemble a team to facilitate a community health assessment to identify local health issues, which will then be used to create the community health improvement plan (created every three years). The current plan is for 2017-2020.