Richmond County got a little worse, Columbia County got a little better and Burke County remained near the bottom in an annual health ranking of counties released today.
In the 2012 County Health Rankings, Richmond County slipped from 104th to 117th in Georgia, Columbia County improved from eighth to seventh and Burke County slipped three spots to rank 151st out of 156 counties ranked; data were not included for three counties.
The data for more than 3,000 counties nationwide ranked by state have been compiled for the past three years as a joint project by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of
Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
They take data from a variety of sources and rank counties by health outcomes such as premature death, health behaviors such as obesity and smoking, access to care and socioeconomic factors such as children living in poverty.
“All of these things taken together really do affect how healthy we are and how long we can live,” said Angela Russell, an associate researcher for the Population Health Institute.
Richmond County fared poorly in a number of areas, from higher rates of obesity, smoking and sexually transmitted diseases to lower rates of high school graduation and a high percentage of children living in poverty.
On the bright side, the Augusta area beat the
national average in primary care physicians, Russell said.
“Richmond is doing particularly well, and quite frankly in the top of the nation, in terms of access to primary care physicians,” she said.
But that is not resulting in better health outcomes.
“That’s what the whole county health rankings is telling us, that good health is more than just access to a health care provider,” she said. “There’s more to the picture in terms of creating good health.”
There are a number of initiatives under way in Augusta to address these problems. Some community groups are getting funding to battle teen pregnancy, the Breathe Easy Coalition will work on another attempt to pass a tougher smoking ordinance, and University Hospital and Christ Community Health Services are working on disease management for chronic conditions, East Central Health District Director Ketty Gonzalez said.
Columbia County passed an indoor smoking ban in 2004.
“The question is, do we have a uniform plan or a road map? I don’t think that we do, as a community,” she said. “But I have to give credit to all of the different groups in the community that are working, addressing one problem at a time.”
To make change, it does help to have everyone working together toward a common goal, Russell said. And it will take patience.
“One thing I will tell folks is, change takes time,” she said. “Change does take time, especially when you are facing something like you are facing (in Richmond County) with sexually transmitted infections and a teen birth rate, which are pretty high.”
Augusta Chronicle staff writer Sandy Hodson contributed to this story.