Health care report shows successes, areas for improvement
Published 6:56 pm Friday, April 14, 2017
Beaufort County ranks 78th out of 100 North Carolina counties in health outcomes, according to a recent report compiled by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Wake County took the No. 1 spot. Nearby Hyde County ranked seventh, and Pitt County came in at No. 59. Most of the data is drawn from 2012-2015.
Although this ranking places Beaufort County in the lowest quarter of the state, there are also many factors the data does not address. According to Beaufort County health officials, there are good and bad factors of health care in this area; however, a common theme is using partnership as a way to move toward improvement.
“The rankings are unique in their ability to measure the current overall health of nearly every county in all 50 states. They also look at a variety of measures that affect the future health of communities, such as high school graduation rates, access to healthy foods, rates of smoking, obesity and teen births,” the report states.
“Communities use the rankings to help identify issues and opportunities for local health improvement, as well as to garner support for initiatives among government agencies, health care providers, community organizations, business leaders, policy makers and the public.”
NEED FOR IMPROVEMENT
Beaufort County ranked 81st in the state regarding length of life, its lowest score in the report. The county’s rate of premature death — defined as years of potential life lost before age 75 — is well above that of the state and nation, coming in at 9,600 per 100,000 people as of 2014.
The report states that Beaufort County is improving in this measure. Its highest rate occurred in 1997 at about 11,000 people. Since 2004, the number has remained below the 10,000 mark.
A variety of factors can cause premature death, including chronic disease, obesity and cancer.
In Beaufort County Health Department’s latest State of the County Health Report, cancer and heart disease are listed as the top two causes of death in the county. Last year, combatting chronic diseases was the No. 1 priority for the health department, followed by preventing cancer deaths.
In this area, men have a higher rate of cancer mortality than women, as do African-Americans and non-Hispanic residents, according to the BCHD report. Health officials are pushing to reduce the mortality rate by 3 percent by the end of this year.
The County Health Rankings report placed Beaufort County as No. 63 in health factors, which include health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors and physical environment.
The report showed the lowest scoring in social and economic factors, and the second lowest as health behaviors. Of particular concern was the data showing that one-third of county residents are obese, and more than half of the population reported inadequate access to areas for physical activity. As for social and economic factors, one-third of children are living below the poverty line, which often signals financial barriers to accessing health care.
The numbers seem mostly negative, but health officials know the improvements needed in Beaufort County and work tirelessly to make them happen. The numbers are also not uncommon especially in rural areas.
Beaufort County Health Department and Vidant Beaufort Hospital continuously work together to bring health care to as many residents as they can reach. Every three years, the two compile a Community Health Assessment based on local, state and national data. The priority areas include: chronic disease prevention and management; weight, physical activity and nutrition; cancer; access to care; and mental health.
“All of that data is looked at collectively to help us come up with what the priorities are for the next three years and where we’re going to focus our attention, so really trying to move the needle on improving the health and well being of our area,” said Pam Shadle, manager of marketing and public relations at Vidant Beaufort.
“We partner with the health department a lot. … Where we go, they go, and vice versa,” added Jennifer Lewis, community health nurse.
Lewis said officials organized 31 screening events in Beaufort and Hyde counties last year; this year’s goal is 35. The Marion L. Shepard Cancer Center plays a large role in cancer treatment and prevention through those screenings — emphasizing the need for proactive measures to catch cancer early.
Other partnerships include the Beau-Fitt health and fitness program at Beaufort County Community College, community health fairs, events such as Heart Truth and Pink Power, and the Heal Thy Neighbor program, which connects hospital services with faith organizations.
Vidant Beaufort is also reaching out to younger people by hosting two healthy living camps at Bath Elementary School and S.W. Snowden Elementary School this summer, Lewis said.
“We’re hoping to really make an impact positively, you know, on the future generations,” she said.
JaNell Lewis, human services planner and preparedness coordinator at the health department, said in a previous interview that the health department pushes for healthy living by offering educational classes for exercise, nutrition programs and diabetes self-management. It also proposed the Healthy Living Clinic earlier this year, which would provide resources and vaccinations to residents.
“I wear two hats: one of them is I’m the administrator of the health department; the other hat is to look at this kind of data, get feedback from the community, everybody, then try to improve the numbers in our population,” BCHD Director Jim Madson said in a previous interview. “Something that I’ve been doing for years is advocating for preventative, because to me it is more important to educate to prevent the disease rather than wait to treat the disease.”
All partners working together strive for an overall goal to improve access to care, even when the area is rural and health care continues to shift toward the outpatient model.
“It’s important for us to be outside of the walls of the hospital for prevention,” Shadle said. “One of our goals for our hospital is to be more involved in our community and to do more community health events.”
She said recruiting new primary care providers — more importantly, providers who plan to stay in Beaufort County — is a huge priority, and has been an area of success in the past year. The County Health Rankings report ranks the county as No. 30 in the state regarding its clinical care.
“I don’t think event county is as blessed to have a health department and their hospital work together so closely,” Jennifer Lewis said. “We stay connected, so we can make a bigger impact.”