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Mar 27, 2013

By STEPH TAHTINEN

Mt. Pleasant News

Although Henry County ranks 17th in the state for being healthy, it only ranks 76th for factors that contribute to health.

In the nationwide 2013 county health rankings released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation last week, Henry County ranks 17th out of the 99 counties in Iowa for overall health outcomes. This is a 30-county jump from its 2012 rank of 47th.

However, although Henry County jumped up the chart for health outcomes, when it came to health factors, the county took a hit and fell down the charts. For overall health factors, Henry County ranked 76th, a 13-county drop from its 2012 ranking of 63rd. This is also almost a 30-county drop from its 2011 ranking of 47th.

“The numbers kind of surprised me, I don’t know of a better way to really describe it,” said Travis Johnson, community health director, who noted that as the numbers just came out last week he is still in the process of analyzing them and a report would probably be completed the second week in April.

Johnson noted that some people do not give much credit to the rankings and data provided by the survey, as some of the information is outdated — from 2004 or 2005 — and there is only a small sample size of 200-300 people surveyed. However, Johnson feels that the information can be useful.

“We will use these numbers, and it’s nice to have any type of measurement we can have, we appreciate that,” said Johnson. “I’m not so worried about the rankings. I don’t want to know are we better than the next county or worse than the other counties. I want to see how our scores are and how we can improve them.”

Besides a large improvement over last year’s overall health outcomes ranking, there is also a significant difference between the 2013 ranking for Henry County and most of the other counties in the Southeast Iowa area. The closest-ranked county is Jefferson, which came in 21st overall, followed by Washington at 44th. Other area counties ranked significantly lower with Van Buren at 73rd, Des Moines at 80th, Lee at 90th and Louisa at 95th.

The health ranking is determined by looking at the health outcomes and health factors.

Health outcomes is divided into the categories of mortality– length of life – and morbidity – quality of life.

“It’s basically the rate of sickness and the rate of death within the county,” explained Johnson.

Henry County ranks highest again in Southeast Iowa for mortality, coming in at 22nd; it was 44th in 2012. The rankings for neighboring counties are as follows: Washington, 34; Jefferson, 42; Van Buren, 45; Des Moines, 68; Lee, 89; Louisa, 91.

Jefferson County comes out on top in the area for morbidity with a rank of nine. Henry County came in 24th, up from its 2012 rank of 46th. Other Southeast Iowa rankings are: Washington, 55; Lee, 85; Van Buren, 86; Des Moines, 87; Louisa, 97.

Although Johnson described Henry County’s jump to 17th place in the overall health outcomes category as “phenomenal,” the county’s drop to 76th place for health factors is cause for some concern, as the health factors contribute to the overall health outcomes.

This means that lower rankings for health factors could potentially cause the health outcomes ranking to drop again in the future.

“When we start looking at health factors, if we maintained poor health factors, eventually it will catch up to us in our morbidity and our mortality. That’s the logical assumption there,” said Johnson. “If we can look at the county level the community level, some of the programs we already have in place, I’m hoping we’re able to change those health factor scores before they ever impact our health outcomes.”

For health factors, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation looks at a wide variety of information, with the main categories as follows, with Henry County’s 2013 ranking followed by the 2012 ranking:

- Health behaviors (tobacco use, diet and exercise, alcohol use, sexual activity): 40th, 26nd

- Clinical care (access to care, quality of care): 35th, 28th

- Social and economic factors (education, employment, income, family and social support, community safety): 91st, 94th

- Physical environment (environmental quality, built environment): 81st, 27th

“Where we’re getting hurt is on the more socioeconomic side of it. Things like employment — we ranked 92nd in employment. Income, we ranked 71st. Community safety, family-social support, we were in the 80s. So on those side of things, we’re ranking lower,” said Johnson.

“All of that, even though we don’t think of it as healthcare and wellness, has a big impact on health,” he continued. “If this survey, these results do nothing, they have to at least open our eyes that we need to look at, from even a healthcare and wellness perspective, we need to look at those other social factors.”

Johnson noted that Henry County already has a few things working in its favor for improving the health factors.

The first is the Healthy Henry County Communities.

“Healthy Henry County Communities, just as the organization that it is, is poised very well to tackle some of these challenges,” said Johnson. “It’s a great cooperative group of public and private businesses and public entities that’s really looking at wellness and what we can do throughout the entire county to improve our overall wellness scores.”

One way the group is doing this is through the Community Transformation Grant, a five-year grant with an estimated $88,000 in funding per year, focuses on the prevention of heart attack, stroke and other chronic conditions through making community-level changes.

“It’s not a grant to get more people to the doctor, it’s not a grant to provide more physical exams. It is a grant to change the environment that we live in and make healthy choices easier to make,” said Johnson.

Thirdly, Johnson noted that the public health department, HHCC and Henry County Health Center will be updating a community needs assessment and looking at what can be improved in the community.

“Between those three steps I think we’re going to see positive changes,” said Johnson. “How quickly the Robert Wood Johnson foundation county health rankings can catch that, I don’t know, but I think we are working in the right direction.”

Full details on the health rankings, including comparing Henry County’s ranking to neighboring counties, can be found at

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