CDH Healthy Communities Panel Reacts to County Health Rankings

NORTHAMPTON — How healthy is your county?

Rcently released reports rank the health of Western Mass. counties and counties across the U.S. The data reveals that much of what affects our health occurs outside of doctors’ offices.

For the third year, the County Health Rankings, compiled by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, confirm the critical role that education, jobs, income, and the environment play people’s health and longevity.

The rankings report confirms what members of the Cooley Dickinson Healthy Communities Committee know is happening locally and also sheds light on some obstacles.

“In Hampshire County, we have many assets, such as a highly educated population and low unemployment,” said Ben Wood, a member of the Healthy Communities Committee and director of the Northampton Health Department. “We also have our work cut out for us the areas of air quality, access to healthy foods, and physical activity.”

Hampshire County ranks fifth out of 14 counties in Massachusetts in overall health, which considers data on premature death, chronic disease, and the health factors that underlie these conditions such as physical activity, smoking, and poverty, among others.

However, when it comes to health factors related to the physical environment, such as the number of air pollution-ozone days, the percentage of low-income people with limited access to healthy foods, and the number of recreational facilities per 100,000 people, Hampshire County ranks lower than average: 10th out of 14 counties.

More than 60{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of premature deaths are due to preventable causes, yet the U.S. spends less than 5{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of every health care dollar to keep people healthy. Cooley Dickinson Hospital knows that prevention is an area for improvement.

A local initiative illustrates a shift from ’sick care’ to ’preventative care.’

CDH partners with area organizations to support community health prevention work, including an innovative initiative funded by the Federal Affordable Care Act known as Mass in Motion. A program of the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, Mass in Motion supports community efforts to initiate policy and environmental changes to support healthy eating and active living.

In Hampshire County, the Regional Council of Governments and the SPIFFY (Strategic Prevention Initiative for Families and Youth) Coalition lead Mass in Motion, and in Franklin County it’s directed by the Regional Council of Governments and the Communities that Care Coalition. CDH’s capacity-building grant program to improve access to healthy food and physical activity partially funds Mass in Motion.

“The County Health Rankings help us understand where the work needs to be focused. Creating an open, responsive, and high-quality progressive health care institution is only part of what it takes to create a healthy community,” said Jenny Reynolds, a member of the CDH board of trustees and chair of the Healthy Communities Committee.”Hospitals and community partners share the same goal: improving the health of the population.”

The rankings complement the community-health-assessment process that the Healthy Communities Committee led on behalf of the hospital. It culminated in the release in January 2011 of the Cooley Dickinson Hospital 2011 Community Health Assessment, which included detailed town-level health data and demographics.

The health assessment also included a survey of the Northampton community to understand the root causes of poor health as well as the assets that exist to support healthy lifestyles. To access these reports, visit www.cooley-dickinson.org/about/community-health-assessment.

The Healthy Communities Committee is a subcommittee of the Cooley Dickinson Hospital board of trustees. Hospital and community-based health advocates comprise the committee.

To access the full County Health Rankings report, visitwww.countyhealthrankings.org.