Douglas County residents smoke too much and exercise too little, but their overall health has improved since last year, according to a report released today ranking the health of residents in every county in the United States.
Douglas County’s health ranking jumped to 30th out of 33 Oregon counties, up from 32nd in 2012. The annual report by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation gives Klamath, Jefferson and Baker counties poorer health grades. Three of the smallest Oregon counties weren’t rated.
Douglas County Health and Social Services Administrator Peggy Madison greeted the news with cautious optimism this morning.
“Making changes in our rankings is a very slow process. We’re not going to expect big jumps from year to year,” Madison said.
The report contains good news and bad. The county scored well for its medical care and physical environment. It scored poorly for the unhealthy lifestyles of its residents, most notably a 26 percent smoking rate and 31 percent obesity rate. Statewide rates are 17 percent for smoking and 26 percent for obesity.
“It certainly gives us plenty to work on,” said Dr. Bob Dannenhoffer, CEO of Architrave Health in Roseburg. “It’s going to be a struggle if we don’t fix the inactivity, obesity and smoking.”
Twenty-one percent of Douglas County residents rate their health as just fair or poor, rather than good. That represents a slight improvement over last year, but still falls well below the 14 percent state average.
The county’s premature death rate — measured by how many people younger than 75 died and how young they were — improved over last year but remained worse than the state average.
Dannenhoffer said making significant improvements in the county’s scores will take time.
“It’s not something we can do overnight. We’re in this for the long haul,” Dannenhoffer said.
One bright spot in this year’s report is Douglas County’s increased score for “clinical care.” The county’s ranking rose to 11th from last years’s 18th.
More doctors and more insured patients drove the change.
Last year, the ratio of primary care doctors to patients was one for every 1,670 patients. This year the county boasts one doctor for every 1,516 residents.
The change reflects efforts by Mercy Medical Center and DCIPA, The Physicians of Douglas County to recruit doctors. Encouraging doctors to move here will be a priority for the newly formed Architrave, a joint venture of Mercy and DCIPA, Dannenhoffer said.
The percentage of uninsured residents also dropped, from 20 percent last year to 19 percent this year. The state average is 20 percent.
Madison and Dannenhoffer said the number of uninsured residents should drop even further after Obamacare provisions take effect in 2014. Dannenhoffer said that could change the county’s rankings significantly, since it will primarily benefit counties like Douglas with larger numbers of low-income residents.
The county received one of its best scores for safety, with a violent crime rate half the state average, at 110 victims per 100,000 population, compared with 257 statewide.
The county also ranked 16th, in the top half of all counties, for its healthy physical environment—a broad category that includes factors such as air and water safety and access to healthy food. Last year, it ranked 22nd.
Douglas County boasts cleaner air and water than the state average.
The percentage of fast food restaurants also dipped from 49 to 44 percent, approaching the state average.
However, the county was docked for a shortage of grocery stores near low-income residents — 11 percent compared with 5 percent statewide.
The county does a good job screening for diabetes and breast cancer, according to the report.
Dannenhoffer said the real key to better rankings is stopping smoking.
Dannenhoffer said doctors must perform thousands of screenings to prevent a single death from breast cancer, but a doctor who stops just three or four people from smoking probably saves one of their lives.
It won’t be easy, he said.
“The smoking rate is still very high and that’s a problem,” he said. “Smoking’s going to be a tough one. It’s a very addictive habit.”
• You can reach reporter Carisa Cegavske at 541-957-4213 or firstname.lastname@example.org.