‘Dismal’

Sullivan’s health ranking slips 

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 4/21/21

MONTICELLO, NY — Sullivan County’s back down to #61.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently released the new health rankings from the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program. …

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‘Dismal’

Sullivan’s health ranking slips 

Posted

MONTICELLO, NY — Sullivan County’s back down to #61.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recently released the new health rankings from the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program. Last year, Sullivan stood at 60 out of 62 in New York State in health outcomes. In health factors, the county is number 56 out of 62; last year, the health factors ranking was 51.

Wayne County, PA is 26 out of the commonwealth’s 67 counties in health outcomes. 

First things first: This does not include deaths from COVID-19. These are only deaths through 2019, according to the foundation. 

And this year, unlike previous years, it didn’t publish the key findings and state reports because it didn’t want to take attention away from the pandemic, its website FAQs note. Next year, it will return to the usual format. 

The rankings “help counties understand what influences how healthy residents are and how long they will live,” the site says. Steps and learning guides offer suggestions on ways to improve their citizens’ health and, thus, rankings. Targeted areas include access to and quality of care, limiting or controlling tobacco, alcohol or drug use, improving social or economic factors, and so on. 

“This is dismal... We need to look at this as a county, take it more seriously and attack it,” said Sullivan County Legislative Chair Rob Doherty. 

“I share your sentiments,” said John Liddle, the newly promoted commissioner of the department of health and family services. “Moving forward, we’re going to be looking at social determinants of health.” The opioid crisis is driving much of the county’s poorer health ranking, as is “premature death,” he said. (That’s death that occurs before age 75, the average age of death in the U.S. The measure includes “years of potential life lost” to make concrete what it means to die early.)

Doherty listed several of the other measures used: poor mental health and physical health days, low birth weight and self-reported health issues. Access to “exercise opportunities” and prevalence of HIV or diabetes are a few of the other categories.

“If we’re going [to improve], we have to up our game,” Liddle said.

“It goes beyond identifying the issues,” said legislator Nadia Rajsz, head of the health and family services committee. “We have to start managing and implementing change.” 

The county’s health problems are real, but ranks can also change for a lot of reasons, the foundation points out. Sullivan’s status is relative to that of the Bronx (one below) and Orleans (one above). Maybe something altered in those counties. There may have been a change in the measures themselves, which would affect how we stood. There could have been some cryptic statistical fluctuation. 

But figuring out what’s causing the health problems here and creating change is critical for making citizens’ lives better, everyone agreed. 

Doherty asked Liddle when a plan would be available. “Talking about this in a broad sense is just wasting everyone’s time. We have to get down into the weeds and find out why [this] is happening.” 

“What can we do as a group?” legislator Joe Perrello asked.

“It’s a Herculean task,” Rajsz said.

Focus on solid goals, said legislator Mike Brooks. “Obviously the goal is to put us in better shape. Start off small. Maybe look at a county that is five spots better than us [that’s Montgomery County, #56] and [determine] the difference between what we’re doing and what they’re currently doing.”

Liddle emphasized his department’s knowledge base. “I promise a plan soon,” he said.

“We’ll do whatever we need to do to get this straightened out and get a healthier Sullivan County,” Perrello said.

See the full health rankings report at www.bit.ly/countyhealthrankings16

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