2010 Feb. 18: PA Pittsburgh: County ranks low in study of residents’ health: Area gets high marks for access to and quality of health care

2010 Feb. 18: PA Pittsburgh: County ranks low in study of residents’ health: Area gets high marks for access to and quality of health care

Posted By Pittsburgh Post-Gazette On February 18, 2010 @ 11:18 am In Health Insurance News, Insurance Industry News | Comments Disabled

By Pohla Smith, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Feb. 18–Ed Wilczek of Ross used to be in real estate, but then his health went bad really fast. So did his career.
Starting with a heart attack in 1992, he had two more serious cardiac events over the next seven or eight years.
“And then before I even recuperated from that I had a mini-stroke.” Back and neck problems followed and he had to quit working.
Now 64, Mr. Wilczek is waiting to turn 65 so he can qualify for Medicare. In the meantime, he receives low-cost care at the North Side Christian Health Care Center. “We’re holding on, but barely,” he said.
Mr. Wilczek’s poor health is reflected in Allegheny County statistics, most recently surveyed in a county-by-county national report issued Wednesday by two public health agencies.
When it comes to having healthy residents, Allegheny County ranks 49th among the state’s 67 counties in terms of deaths and sickness, according to the report.
Chester County in southeastern Pennsylvania is the healthiest in terms of both health outcomes (rates of premature death and poor health) and health factors (both positive and negative influences on health), which are compared in the report released Wednesday by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Philadelphia County is ranked as the least healthy in both outcomes and the factors influencing health.
The report is the first to rank the overall health of every county in the United States — more than 3,000 of them tallied state by state — by using a standard formula to measure how healthy people are and how long they are living.
“What we hope is that [the report] will call attention in communities across the U.S. to the many factors that affect a community’s health,” said Bridget Booske, director of the project.
County Health Department Director Bruce Dixon said the rankings succeed on those terms.
“I think that overall it gives us good generalities we can look at … some areas to start a discussion and say, ‘Can we improve and have better outcomes for the health of our citizens?’ ” he said. “It’s a good way to start a discussion, what we perceive as the strengths and weaknesses of a community.”
Allegheny County was ranked 44th in mortality — length of life — and 48th in morbidity, which combined self-reported fair or poor health, poor physical health days, poor mental health days, and the percent of births with low birth weight.
To determine health factors, the researchers looked at such behaviors as tobacco use and high-risk sexual practices; socioeconomic factors such as education, employment and community support; and environmental factors such as air quality.
The authors primarily used data from such sources as the U.S. Census, Small Area Health Insurance Estimates, the National Center for Health Statistics, Medicare and the Environmental Protection Agency in developing the rankings.
On the positive side, Allegheny County ranked ninth in access to and quality of health care.
The county was at the bottom of the health factor rankings of physical environment, which covered the presence of ozone and particulate matter in the air, along with the availability of liquor stores and access to healthy foods.
“I wouldn’t have been surprised if we had been second from the bottom next to Philadelphia County because we have the second-most industrialized and heterogeneous populace in Pennsylvania,” said Dr. Dixon. “It’s a little hard to compare us to a place like Forest County, which doesn’t have the same issues as we have.”
A look at the rankings of neighboring counties:
In health outcomes: Butler, 11; Westmoreland, 18; Washington, 29; and Beaver, 44.
In health factors: Butler, 6; Westmoreland, 10; Beaver, 25; and Washington, 38.
Pohla Smith: psmith@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1228.
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