When the first County Health Rankings were in 2010, Richardson County was ranked as the least healthy county in Nebraska. Since then, the county has made slow but steady progress to number 51 (out of 93 counties).
While this progress is heartening, according to Community Medical Center Administrator, Ryan Larsen, the latest reports still show significant opportunities for continued improvement. For example, one measure used looks at how often people die before the age of 75. Richardson County still has a much higher rate than much of the rest of the state and nation. According to the study, cancer and heart disease are the primary drivers for these “lost years” in our county.
Not surprisingly, the county scores poorly for indicators that tend to reduce risks from cancer and heart disease. These include higher than average rates of smoking and obesity, lower levels of physical activity, and much lower rates for basic screening, like mammograms and colonoscopies. In fact, when looking solely at health behaviors, Richardson County still receives one of the lowest scores in the state.
“While this report is not yet a cause to celebrate, there are still a lot of positives,” according to Larsen. “Most importantly, all of these are issues we can do something about. Additionally, we have shown over the last decade that we can improve by working together and being persistent.”
Interestingly, many of the issues identified in the report can be thought of as Women’s Health Issues. Larsen confirmed that the hospital sees women’s health as an opportunity. “In discussions with our doctors and community groups, we think improving women’s health could have a big impact—both for the women themselves and for their families—since women are often both caregivers and the drivers of health behaviors in their families. Further, we’re finding that the hospital and other organizations can and need to do more to support the health of women. For example, focused investments in 3-D mammography, cardiovascular screenings, fitness, and behavioral health have the potential to benefit a great number of women and families.” Larsen said that the hospital is working with the health department and local health care organizations to prioritize and take action.
County Health Rankings can be found at countyhealthrankings.org. They are compiled from publically available data and released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin.