Suffolk up one notch in health rankings

Published 10:57 pm Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Suffolk improved its overall health ranking by one point in the past year, according to a study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

The annual County Health Rankings rank cities and counties in each state in the nation based on dozens of criteria such as health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors, physical environment and health outcomes.

Even though it improved in several areas, though, the city failed to meet the national benchmark in every single category. It is beating the state average in several categories, though.

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“Any little improvement in the overall health and wellbeing of our citizens is a reason to celebrate, so we should give ourselves some credit for that,” said Jaya Tiwari, executive director of Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community.

However, she said, rankings in certain areas still are disappointing and show the city “has a long road ahead of us to make real improvements in these areas.”

This year’s rankings included several new measures, such as how many fast-food restaurants are in a locality and levels of physical inactivity among residents. Most of the rankings include several years of data.

Suffolk ranked 69 in health outcomes — premature death, low birthweight and the like — out of Virginia’s 131 localities in the study. That was a one-spot improvement over last year, which was a two-spot gain over the year before.

The city showed a bigger improvement in health factors, coming up five spots to 65th ranking.

The biggest improvement in a sub-category was in health behaviors, where the city improved 13 spots to 79th place. Health behaviors include such things as smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, excessive alcohol use, sexually transmitted infections, the teen birth rate and the motor vehicle crash death rate.

“I think that probably the Obici Healthcare Foundation and the Suffolk Partnership for a Healthy Community play a big role on that,” said Dr. Nancy Welch, director of the Western Tidewater Health District, which includes Suffolk. She is on the board of the Suffolk Partnership.

“They do a lot in the community, and their big focus is diabetes and obesity,” she said. “They are very visible in terms of the programs that they offer.”

The city’s rank in clinical care moved up one spot, from 32 to 31. The city’s highest rank comes in this category, which includes the percentage of uninsured residents, the ratio of primary care physicians to the population, preventable hospital stays, diabetic screenings and mammography screenings.

Tiwari said many of the issues, such as obesity and chronic diseases, will take years or perhaps even decades of city-wide effort to make significant change.

“Very fortunately for Suffolk, the community is already coming together to work on these issues under the auspices of the Healthy People, Healthy Suffolk Plan,” she said.

The plan is a partnership between the Suffolk Partnership and the Obici Healthcare Foundation to develop a long-term action plan to address issues that affect health in the city.

“We are confident that it will address many of the areas in the County Health Rankings over the next decade,” she said.

The state health commissioner said the rankings will help communities identify areas that need improvement.

“Where we live, learn, work and play influence health and longevity,” Karen Remley said. “The rankings help us identify what’s making people sick or healthy. This annual checkup helps bring community leaders together to identify the strengths in their communities as well as evaluate where to focus their efforts to make improvements.”

To learn more about the rankings, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org.