Palatka Daily News
By Brandon D. Oliver
A state medical organization earlier this week released health and socioeconomic statistics comparing nearly 20 counties to state averages.
Putnam County was among Alachua, Bradford, Lake and 12 other counties that were in the study released by the WellFlorida Council.
The study reported that in Putnam, the average teen birth rate is more than two times higher than the state average, and the average number of emergency room visits in the county is higher than the state average.
The study, which can be found at wellflorida.org/data-reports, also notes that the county’s death rate – including causes such as cancer, diabetes and heart disease – is higher than that of the state.
Jeff Claudio, the Service Line Director of the Putnam Community Medical Center Emergency Department, said that the statistics that WellFlorida released do not shock him.
“I am not surprised by that data,” Claudio said. “I live that data every day in the emergency department, and that data appears empirically accurate.”
He said that there is an average of slightly fewer than 3,000 patients in the emergency room each month, but the numbers are subject to change seasonally.
Before the year ends, he said, the emergency department might treat approximately 34,000 patients.
Many of the patients that are treated in the emergency room are not treated for emergencies, Claudio said. Numerous non-emergency patients use the department as their choice for primary care, he said.
“This is an issue for them as well as the emergency department, because emergency departments are typically not set up to deliver primary, ongoing care with the adequate, personalized, long-term healthcare many patients require,” he said.
Claudio noted that in the county and in the nation, there is a documented shortage of physicians, but the increasing prevalence of urgent care centers, such as Azalea Health Care, gives local residents a place to receive primary care.
The state Department of Health in Putnam County is another primary care resource that offers health care and free immunizations for children as well as some health care options and low-cost immunizations for adults.
The county average percentage of children immunized by the time they are in kindergarten is less than 5 percent of the state average.
Claudio said the health department and the hospital have been working hard to get as many parents as possible up-to-date with their children’s vaccinations.
“The Florida Department of Health has a robust immunization program, and they will immunize all children for free,” he said. “We encourage all mothers to have their children immunized against all childhood diseases. The area pediatricians also advocate for this practice.”
Part of the reason the county’s death rate is so much higher than the state’s is because by the time many patients visit the hospital, they are at the end stages of a disease that has affected them for a long time, Claudio said.
“Without cultural education and a meaningful injection of funds to bring industry and widespread employment to the county, it is doubtful the medical landscape of the local population will change in a positive way,” he said.
The full report for Putnam and the other 15 counties can be seen at the WellFlorida website.