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April 1, 2014
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Editorial: Douglas County's poor health rankings are a matter of choice

It’s good that Gilliam, Sherman and Wheeler counties were considered too small to be included in the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute’s annual rankings. Otherwise, there probably would be three more places in Oregon considered healthier than Douglas County.

For a second year running, our county placed 30th out of 33 in the surveys rating overall health and longevity. True, the percentage of adults who smoke dropped 2 percentage points to 24. Any resulting jubilation in that small gain is wiped out with these facts: One in four of us smokes, one in four of us is not in good health and one in three of us is not only overweight, but alarmingly so.

Asked about these dismal findings, area health representatives tried to look on the bright side.

One said the number of uninsured in Oregon is “way too many, but it will be way better than it is now.”

Another said, “I am confident that these numbers (general health rankings) are going to start to get better.”

Pardon our pessimism, but that sounds like a victory of hope over experience.

It’s time to stop making excuses for people who choose behaviors that make them sick or in danger of being sick. These adults know what to do to stay healthy. They just don’t do it.

One spokeswoman said it’s hard to lead a healthy lifestyle if you don’t live in a healthy community. No doubt that’s true if you live beside the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Here in rural Southern Oregon, the challenges are a little different.

Poverty is a bigger factor in the health of this community. But walking is a cheap form of exercise. Free information on healthy eating is available at Douglas County Health & Social Services and the Oregon State University Extension Service office, to name two places.

Cigarettes are expensive. Yet a quarter of county residents finds no trouble in getting a ready supply of them.

A county medical leader said last week that health care groups have recruited many new doctors. We hope those doctors accept Medicare patients, as so many here in the county do not. We hope that most of them are primary care physicians who will accept new patients without requiring these folks to fill out applications and wait several weeks to be seen. We hope that recruiters remember that adding a lot of specialists to the county’s roster is of limited benefit if even established patients have to wait several weeks to see their own doctors, then wait several more weeks or months after being referred to those specialists.

Clarity also is an item on our health care wish list. Douglas County commissioners last week approved handing over two county mental health care services programs to the Umpqua Health Alliance. What nobody could explain on short notice was what this would mean for patients, providers and employees. Terms like “new models of service delivery” and “increase (of) effectiveness and efficiency of community health services” were offered. But like so much connected with the coordinated care organization movement, details were wanting.

We believe that health care professionals in this area are doing what they can to improve life for county residents. Still, year after year, the health ratings are either stagnant or worse.

Until people start making better choices, don’t expect the county’s ranking to improve.

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The News-Review Updated Apr 1, 2014 04:26PM Published Apr 1, 2014 11:28AM Copyright 2014 The News-Review. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.