Health Rankings of Florida Counties

The Hernando Sun

By Kathryn Dentato

Jeff Feller, CEO of WellFlorida Council in Gainesville, shared good news about the health of Hernando County residents with the BOCC. The health rankings measure specific health indicators/influences and compare them with other counties in the nation. Each state’s counties are then ranked so that the state can use that information to encourage positive changes (if needed). Two key areas are ranked: health outcomes (how healthy residents are) and health factors (what makes residents healthy). The rankings are from most desirable (1) to least desirable (67).

Feller offered a disclaimer, stating that the information gathered is the “best guess” of health researchers, and factors that may be strengths for one county may not apply to another. Counties also differ in the amount or availability of resources. The data used was designed to be reproduced all over the country, and is changed or “tweaked” from year to year, which does influence the outcome of the rankings.

According to the chart displayed, Hernando County’s health outcomes figure steadily declined from 2010 (39) to 2015 (52). Health outcomes includes length and quality of life, and while the length of life factor improved from 52 to 51 over last year, the quality of life ranking jumped from 55 to 36 in one year. The 2016 data resulted in an overall improvement of nine points, with a rank of 43 out of the 67 counties in Florida, and indicates an enhancement to the quality of life in Hernando County.

Contributing factors for the good quality of life include health behaviors, clinical care, social/economic factors, and the physical environment. Hernando County’s ranking for health factors dropped from 33 to 36 this year. The reason, Feller stated, is due to the physical environment score – a drop from 32 to 51 in one year. Water quality is one of the main resources looked at in the study, and previously fewer than six violations would have been acceptable. This year, the “tweak” to the data input meant that the County’s only water violation resulted in the County being awarded negative points. In the remaining categories, Hernando County either improved or there was no change in score.

Robin Napier, Health Department Administrator, explained the initiatives and partnerships in the community which have helped drive the numbers Feller shared. Obesity, diabetes, and mental health are major concerns of the Health Department and there are several ways that the DOH partners with the community.

Napier stated the first program is Healthiest Weight Florida. The 5-2-1-0 Healthy Hernando Initiative recommends 5 servings of fruits/vegetables, less than 2 hours of recreational screen time, 1 hour of physical activity, and 0 sugary drinks. Other programs in which the Department of Health (DOH) was either a sponsor or partner include “Move to 5K”, the Brooksville Library 5K, City of Brooksville Bike to Work Day, and the Explorer K8 Walking School Bus event.

Breastfeeding for up to six months is also recommended as a way to combat obesity. Breastfeeding peer support is offered at WIC programs and in hospitals. School health nurses measure BMI of first, third, and sixth grade students and provide the results to parents. Beginning with the 2016-2017 school year, the DOH will work with schools on developing a wellness plan to address obesity issues of students.

The Complete Streets project incorporates all forms of travel (pedestrian, bicycle, public transportation, and private vehicles) in planning or upgrading streets in municipal areas.
Napier stated the Hernando Diabetes Alliance provides self-management classes for diabetics called “Everyone with Diabetes Counts”, with the goal of having fewer hospital visits. The Alliance shares resources with the community and partners with the DOH, Oak Hill Hospital, YMCA, Walgreens, and other groups.

Mental health is the third area where the DOH works with the community. The Hernando County Sheriff’s Office has a Crisis Intervention Training (CIT) to help deputies and first responders identify and work with individuals who may have mental illness or be in crisis. Mental Health First Aid is a training available to members of the community, but it does not diagnose mental illness. Its main goal is to provide awareness and reduce the stigma of mental illness, but much like a First Aid/CPR course, it is intended to teach someone what to do in the event they encounter someone in crisis.

Tobacco use has also been a concern for the DOH and Anti-Drug Coalition. Working with local businesses, they seek to reduce employees’ exposure to secondhand smoke, and do the same for renters in multiple housing units. The DOH funds Area Health Education Centers, which provides nicotine and tobacco cessation programs that are free to the public. Youth prevention programs in schools, such as Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT), are sponsored by the Anti-Drug Coalition.

Napier states the County has a lot to do, but was encouraged by the rankings as it shows that there are improvements. The community partnerships are what makes the County successful. Napier advised that the DOH is conducting a community needs assessment, which helps them prioritize what should happen next.

Referring to a handout entitled “Introduction to Health in all Policies”, Napier stated, “Good health is fundamental for a strong economy and a vibrant society.” The intent is to implement specific health policies throughout multiple layers of government actions so that “healthy public policy becomes the normal way of doing business.”

The Community Health Improvement Partnership (CHIP) works with the DOH on many of the projects noted above. Napier invited the BOCC to call upon the DOH and CHIP to be a “sounding board” when making policy decisions.

The data shared with the BOCC is available online at www.countyhealthrankings.org. For more information about the 5-2-1-0 Campaign, please visit http://www.5210letsgo.com/. Information about Healthiest Weight Florida can be found athttp://www.healthiestweightflorida.com/index.html.

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WellFlorida Council, Inc. is a private, nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization created in 1969. We are the state designated local health council for 16 counties in North Central Florida and specialize in health-related consultancy for clients and projects throughout Florida.

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