Rowan health ranking up, but still at 54th in state; Cabarrus 7th

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 19, 2012

By Karissa Minn
kminn@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY – Rowan County’s health is improving compared to other counties, according to a report released Tuesday.
The annual report is created by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
It ranks counties across the nation on how healthy they are — looking at premature deaths, birth outcomes and self-assessments — and the factors that influence their health.
Rowan County now ranks 54 out of 100 North Carolina counties, up from last year’s ranking of 62. Meanwhile, Cabarrus County maintained its ranking of seventh healthiest in the state for a second year.
Some of the areas of improvement for Rowan include lower mortality rates, decreased smoking in adults and lower instances of sexually transmitted diseases.
“These are small percentage increases… but it’s certainly an improvement, and we’re pleased about that,” said Leonard Wood, public health director for the Rowan County Health department. “It’s going to take a lot more time for us to really analyze this, but I’m encouraged.”
As in the 2011 report, Wake County is ranked as the healthiest in North Carolina, and Columbus County is ranked at the bottom.
Wood said it’s important for local health officials and the community to work together to make Rowan County healthier.
“The health department has tried to emphasize this issue with our elected officials and with other various groups in the community, Wood said. “We’re trying to get people thinking in terms of, ‘We have to improve, and it’s going to take all of us to do this.’”
Over the past three to five years, he said, the medical community has come together to address health issues of concern. Wood praised the local hospital’s role in that effort.
Dari Caldwell, president of Rowan Regional Medical Center, said she looks for ways to influence factors that the hospital can’t change directly.
“It’s not necessarily a hospital thing, but it’s community agencies partnering together to figure out, ‘Where can we make a difference?’” she said.
For example, Rowan lags behind most surrounding counties and the state in mammography screenings.
“That’s an area that we need to do a lot better,” Caldwell said.
In the past year, she said, Rowan Regional has opened a new breast health center, deployed a mobile mammography unit and sponsored a breast health booth at Autumn Jubilee.
The hospital also received a grant from the Komen Foundation, which funds mammograms for women who can’t pay for them.
Caldwell said she expects Rowan’s health ranking to keep improving, because these recent efforts don’t factor into the 2012 report. The data used is often a year old or more, and mammography numbers are from 2009.
One area that the hospital can more directly impact is the number of primary care physicians, and Caldwell said it is working hard on recruitment. Compared to Rowan, Cabarrus County has nearly twice the number of doctors relative to its population.
Caldwell and Wood agree that there is much more work to be done.
Rowan ranks 97th for its physical environment this year, mostly due to its high number of ozone air pollution days. While that makes the county the fourth worst in the state, it does mark an improvement from last year’s rank of 100.
Slightly more Rowan residents are graduating high school and going to college, which is included under social and economic factors.
But 39 percent of children are in poverty, compared to 17 percent in Cabarrus County, and that number has been trending upward.
To see the entire report, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org.
Contact reporter Karissa Minn at 704-797-4222.
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