Health rankings drop; officials have action plan for improvement

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By Thomas Barr

 SHEPHERDSVILLE – Although the score for Bullitt County’s health rankings were lower, local officials are pleased that strides had been made in several key measurements over the past year.

And, even though there is a new leader of the Bullitt County Public Health Department, the mission will remain the same.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute recently released its 2013 county health rankings for the nation.

Overall, the county ranked 25th out of 120 counties in Kentucky in the 2013 report. Last year, the county’s ranking was 17th.

However, former county health director Dr. Swannie Jett pointed out that a few more variables were added.

“The rankings this year added a few more variables overall, which lowered our score to 25th from 17th last year but 25th is still a good score,” said Jett, who resigned earlier this year to take a position in Florida.

He was pleased that the county made improvements in several key areas.

For example, the percentage of smokers dropped from 31 to 26 percent. And the morality rate is very good with a ranking of fifth in the state.

Jett was also pleased that the county’s percentage of excessive drinking (9 percent) is lower than the state average of 12 percent.

Mammography screenings increased to 68 percent of the women in the county, compared to 62 percent throughout the state.

And the number of uninsured Bullitt Countians was 15 percent, compared to 18 percent in the entire state.

Bullitt County ranked a little higher when only looking at health factors. The county was 22nd out of 120 in Kentucky.

According to Jett, the health factors included: health behavioral (30 percent of the weighted score); clinical (20 percent); social and economic (40 percent) and environment (10 percent).

In the category of health behavioral, the county moved from 47th to 25th this year.

Jett said that was due to the advancements made in the areas of adult smoking, excessive drinking, uninsured and mammography screenings.

On the flip side, Jett said that the county has several things working against it to improve in the health rankings.

The physical environment was 59th out of 120 counties. This represented the lowest scoring category for the county.

Issues relating to this include the limit to healthy foods, which was 7 percent compared to 5 percent for the state; and fast food restaurants are 67 percent compared to 54 percent in the state.

Another issue still facing the county is the low ratio of physicians to citizens, which stands at one physician for every 4,965 residents.

“This is terrible and we need to quickly improve with the possible expansion of Medicaid in 2014 in Kentucky,” Jett said of the high resident to doctor ratio.

Andrea Renfrow, who was recently promoted to the position of health director, agreed with Jett’s assessments.

She felt the biggest problem the county must address is the need for more physical activity and a change to develop more health lifestyles.

Renfrow said that adult obesity is 34 percent in Bullitt County, which is higher than the state and national averages.

One of the goals is to continue the strides made in forming partnerships with local agencies with the prize in working to change the existing lifestyles.

By addressing the physical inactivity issue, Renfrow said that would help a lot of different health categories.

She believes the health department has made a lot of strides in the past few years in marketing the variety of services it provides, more than just clinical or environmental services.

It is these partnerships and the education of the community that will be a key to improving the health rankings and to improving the quality of life for Bullitt Countians.

“We need to improve this by partnerships with other agencies and involvement of elected officials to expand understanding of public health system and how they are part of the county’s evaluation,” said Jett. “Bullitt County Health Department and the Board of Health can be the driving force but we improve based on everyone being involved to expand needed services and improve the overall quality of life in our community.”

Renfrow said it was her desire to continue the existing programs and to continue to push for more involvement in the community that may have had a key role in her earning the promotion.

“I want to continue the momentum of the many good things we are doing,” said Renfrow. “I have a great staff to work with and I am pleased with the number of partnerships we have in the community.”

To learn more about the health scores, go to www.pioneernews.net and link to the Bullitt County Public Health Department and go to the rankings.