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Features Health & Wellness Macon County drops in health rankings

The 2014 County Health Rankings were released last week and saw Macon County fall in position for the third straight year to 19th healthiest county in North Carolina. In years past, Macon has been 13th and 16th out of 100 counties.

The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program is a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. The two entities rank almost every county in the country. The purpose of the County Health Rankings Index is to help communities create solutions that make it easier for people to be healthy in their communities, focusing on specific factors that they believe affect health, such as education and income, whether a person has health insurance and the quality of health care they receive.

Some of the factors that the rankings consider are the rates of death before the age of 75, air and water quality, high school graduation rates, and unemployment among other benchmarks. Officials boast that the quality of the measures produced to illustrate a county's overall health based on these factors are a sufficient tool for influencing governmental agencies, healthcare providers, community organizations, policy-makers, and the public in their overall concern for health improvements.

Despite the drop in rankings, Becky Barr, Population Health Section Administrator for the county explains that there's more to the rankings than what the number suggests.

“They cannot be used to compare one year to a past year for a number of statistical and source-based reasons,” she said, pointing to a different set of measures that are used from year to year.

“Also, just because a county's ranking went down, it does not mean health conditions have deteriorated in that county. These are rankings, not rates and the confidence intervals associated with the rankings made them a very unreliable measure.”

Despite the recent drop, Macon is only ranked lower than four other western N.C. counties (Watauga, Transylvania, Henderson, Buncombe) and beat out immediate neighbor Jackson County by three spots. Swain (94), Graham (63), Clay (57) and Cherokee (65) counties all ranked significantly lower.

As the rankings were broken down by measure, Macon County got good numbers for length of life, quality of life, air pollution, preventable hospital stays and mammography screenings while staying the course in adult obesity, uninsured medical patients, diabetic screenings, and violent crime reporting.

According to trends provided by the rankings, the county has done worse over the last three years under such measurements as physical inactivity, sexually transmitted diseases, unemployment and children in poverty.

Another assessment that is conducted every three years here in Macon County may be a more accurate look at the overall health than the Community Health Rankings, says Barr.

“We have a high level of confidence that this assessment process results in very accurate and relevant information about what we should do as a community to improve the health status in our community,” said Barr.

In order to improve the health of the county, she points to the priorities that are outlined in the in-depth community health assessment.

  • Priority A: Reduce the incidence of preventable chronic disease related to obesity, particularly diabetes and heart disease.
  • Priority B: Promote recruitment and retention of additional primary care physicians and dental practitioners serving Macon County residents.
  • Priority C: Reduce the incidence and mortality rates of breast, colon, and lung cancer through prevention and early intervention efforts.

“We feel very strongly that we should continue to focus on addressing the three priorities established by the 2012 Community Health Assessment,” said Barr. “All healthcare providers in the community participated in developing the priorities and have submitted their plans for addressing these issues over the next three years.”

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