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Sullivan next to last in health; Wayne and Pike fare better

By Fritz Mayer
April 2, 2014

UPPER DELAWARE RIVER VALLEY — The fifth annual County Health Rankings, which measure the health outcomes and impacts of practically all of the counties in the United States, were published on March 16, and once again Sullivan County is second from last in New York State. Sullivan placed 61 out of 62 counties, ahead of only Bronx.

Some nearby counties, such as Westchester and Rockland, are near the top of the list, but the very best is Livingston County in the Finger Lakes region.

Some of the differences between the two: the adult smoking rate in Sullivan is 26%, in Livingston it is 17%; the measure of excessive drinking is 19% in Sullivan, the figure for Livingston is 11%; teen births are 31 per 1,000 females aged 15 to 19 in Sullivan, in Livingston, the figure is 12.

Some measures, however, aren’t that different from place to place. For instance, 29% of the population in both counties is obese.

Why does it matter? According to the people who publish the report, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Public Health Institute, people who live in one of the healthier counties tend to live longer. A press release about the rankings explains, “The least healthy counties have twice the death rates and twice as many children living in poverty and teen births as the nation’s healthiest counties.”

The rankings estimate how many years might be lost due to premature death, which is judged as any death that occurs before 75 years of age. In Sullivan, there are 7,799 potential years lost; in Livingston, the number is 4,701.

There is a feature on the rankings for each county that suggests areas that counties might wish to investigate to improve the health situation. Regarding Sullivan County, the suggested areas to look at include adult smoking, adult obesity and the ratio of primary care physicians to residents, which in Sullivan is one to 2,136. In top performing counties, the ratio is one to 1,051.

Other areas that might be good to investigate: the high unemployment rate, the low high school graduation rate and housing problems.


Across the river in Pennsylvania, the ranking paints a better picture in Wayne and Pike counties. In terms of health outcomes, Wayne County ranks 29 out of a total of 67 counties, and Pike County ranks 11. The years that might be lost due to premature death total 6,647 in Wayne and 5,761 in Pike.

Making change for the better

Though it’s not easy, counties with a lot of poverty can improve their rankings with determination and perseverance. This information about Scott County in Indiana, which for years was the lowest ranked county in that state, came from Jan O’Neill, MPA, a Community Coach with County Health Rankings & Roadmaps.
“Although rural Scott County, IN continues to struggle with poverty, the community has made significant progress in the last two years, thanks to sustained, collective commitment to work together, prioritize areas of need, build on strengths, and focus on policy and systems changes as well as effective programs. The Scott County Partnership has solidified its coalition, adding policy makers like Mayor Graham of Scott, IN, business leaders (including the new CEO of the local hospital), and educational leaders. As a result, there have been some big changes, including: integration of a health focus into the Mayoral-led “Scottsburg 2020” plan; an additional pediatrician for the area, a patient navigator serving several community sites, and a “swing-bed” facility which will enable rehabilitating patients to leave the hospital sooner; a program called “A Place to Be,” which provides food and support for victims of abuse; the addition of new businesses and jobs.
“Additionally, prescription overdoses have declined from 21 deaths three years ago to 13 in the past year, the result of a change in prescribing practices begun in 2012. With new jobs in the community, the percent of children in poverty has decreased from 34% to 28%. The renewed energy and commitment of multiple stakeholders has attracted funding resources. For example, the community received funding from the statewide Pioneering Healthy Communities initiative (YMCA) to get baseline data on students’ body mass index; a $1 million 21st Century Learning Centers grant from the state department of education; and renewals of existing grants like AmeriCorps. Finally, the Scott County Partnership has shifted its focus from deficits and weaknesses to ‘building a county of positive norms,’ and will be kicking this off with a major media campaign that highlights data such as 70% of residents exercise regularly, 70% of teens don’t abuse alcohol, and 70% don’t engage in premarital sex.”