From the Harford County Health Department:
A quick snapshot of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) national County Health Rankings released in late March, reflects heath status in Harford remains stable, despite having dropped one position in the rankings from ninth to tenth in health outcomes, and from eighth to ninth relative to health behaviors among the 24 jurisdictions throughout Maryland.
The rankings, now in their fourth year, show that how long and how well people live depends on multiple factors including rates of smoking, education, and access to healthy food, and help to lay the groundwork for health improvement efforts, both locally and statewide. The change in Harford’s rankings is more likely a reflection of more significant changes in other Maryland counties, said a representative of RWJF.
Harford achieved its highest rankings (6th best in the state) both in mortality and clinical care. Its lowest rankings were 12th in morbidity (defined as the percentage of adults reporting fair or poor physical or mental health) and 17th in physical environment. That criterion is based upon limited air and water quality data, access to recreational facilities and healthy foods, as well as the percent of all restaurants that are fast-food establishments. Regarding almost all measurement criteria, Harford’s data and rankings remained remarkably consistent with its 2012 rankings as compared to other Maryland counties that experienced wider variability. However, among those measurements earmarked for special consideration in Harford were higher rates of adult smoking and obesity in the County’s population.
The RWJF website describes the design of the County Health Rankings as more than a lengthy listing of health indicators. Instead, it serves as a call to action, where the use of ranks often serves to draw attention to community health issues. Harford County Health Officer Susan Kelly agrees, stating, “The Rankings point to areas where more in-depth analysis might be helpful, while also reinforcing the critical need for collaborative relationships. By using these measures as a tool as well as an incentive, we can create opportunities to engage businesses, health-care providers, government, consumers, our local health department and community leaders in exploring ways to help Harford Countians live longer, healthier lives.”
Ms. Kelly also references the County’s Local Health Improvement Process (LHIP) that is part of a larger Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene statewide initiative addressing 39 key health objectives. Initiated eighteen months ago for purposes of identifying the County’s most critical health needs and targeting them for action, a large and diverse Coalition composed of agency representatives and community stakeholders has spent the past year developing strategies that address three health priority areas identified in the County: obesity, tobacco use and behavioral health.
However, Ms. Kelly cautions that the rankings do not provide a totally clear nor comprehensive conclusion about health status in Harford or elsewhere. “Although the information contained in the recent report is useful in targeting issues and motivating strategic planning, there are other influences that must be considered that also affect those rankings.” Included among them is the selection or exclusion of specific measurement criteria used to rank counties, as well as the influence of respondents’ self-reported perceptions about their health.
Additionally, there are measurement criteria, such as environmental factors (having to do with air quality and public water quality), social and economic factors (such as income and educational levels, family support systems, unemployment and crime rates), and personal choices regarding health practices that fall outside the control of public health professionals and healthcare service providers.
While Ms. Kelly hopes the rankings would inspire changes needed to rise in the rankings, she acknowledges that a great deal depends on the health decisions and behaviors of Harford County residents. “Looking only at our rates and ranking versus other Maryland counties, it appears that Harford is relatively healthy by comparison, but we recognize there certainly are disparities and challenging issues left with which to deal.”
For more information about the County Health Rankings or Harford County’s Local Health Improvement Process, visit the Harford County Health Department website at www.harfordcountyhealth.com.