• Health factors
Social and Economic:
• Rankings in each category are from healthiest to least healthy
Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute
This story was corrected to show that Okanogan County is second highest in low birth weight. The original version mistakenly listed the category as low birth rate.
NCW — Okanogan and Douglas counties may be neighbors, but a new ranking puts them at opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to health.
Douglas County was named the second healthiest county in Washington in a first-ever county-by-county health report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute last week. It’s just below top-ranked San Juan County.
Okanogan County was second to last in the ranking of the 39 counties in the state, just above Ferry County. Chelan County ranked ninth and Grant County came in 28th.
Researchers used five measures to assess the overall health of each county, including the rate of people dying before age 75, the percent of people who report being in fair or poor health, the numbers of days people report being in poor physical and poor mental health, and the rate of low-birthweight infants.
The report also looks at several factors that affect people’s health. They include:
• Health behavior, such as smoking and obesity rates.
• Clinical care, such as the number of adults with health insurance and the availability of primary-care doctors.
• Social factors like poverty rates and high school graduation rates.
• Physical environment, including homicide rates, access to healthy foods, and the level of air pollution.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is a nonprofit organization that focuses on health-care issues, and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute works to translate research into health policy and practice.
Health officials in Okanogan and Chelan-Douglas counties had reviewed the results of the report, released Feb. 17.
“I’m happy with the results, but we have a lot more we can do,” said Mary Small, spokeswoman for the Chelan-Douglas Health District. She said Chelan and Douglas counties are so closely intertwined, that some of the data was likely combined data from both counties.
Small said a number of programs — from tobacco and obesity prevention to putting healthy foods in school vending machines — help make the two-county area a healthy place to live.
She said access to quality health care locally is also a major factor, and, “The majority of our population lives near our medical mecca,” she said.
Paul Waterstrat, director of the Okanogan County Public Health, said many of the strengths in Chelan and Douglas counties don’t exist in Okanogan County.
“We don’t have a lot of the resources that Chelan County has, largely because of the economy,” he said.
Waterstrat sees several reasons why Okanogan County scored low, including poverty, lack of access to some health services, and high birth risk factors.
He said high poverty rates contribute in several ways.
The income of Okanogan County residents averages $28,800, and large numbers of residents qualify for social services. He said 45 percent of Okanogan County residents use services of the Department of Social and Health Services, and 74 percent of births are through Medicaid.
Waterstrat cited several other statistics in Okanogan County when compared with the rest of the state, including the following:
• Premature births are third highest.
• Pregnancy complications are third highest.
• Low birth weight is second highest.
• Infant mortality is ninth highest.
• Number of adults with a personal medical provider is second lowest.
• Number of adults without health insurance is fifth highest.
• Life expectancy is eighth lowest.
Waterstrat said it’s extremely costly to provide services throughout the county, or organize effective campaigns that promote health, because its towns are so distant from one another.
“It’s not the cost of fuel. It’s the staff time and people going from one area to another,” he said.
But instead of spending more, funding for public health is 75 percent lower per capita than the rest of the state, he said.
Waterstrat said there are some positive things in the works for rural counties like Okanogan.
“Hopefully, the state is starting to recognize the fact that rural health organizations are struggling,” he said.
Last year, the Legislature passed a bill that provides health districts more flexibility in spending their funds. He said to prevent further disparities of public health in rural counties, the state needs to restore some programs that were cut, and ensure that funding is distributed fairly.
K.C. Mehaffey: 997-2512