County Responds to Health Rankings Report   

(Liberty) – Sullivan County Officials today have responded to the release of a new report that ranked New York’s counties on select health outcomes and health factors.  The report was issued today by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, and placed Sullivan County just above the Bronx in overall health outcomes. (61 out of 62) compared to other counties in the state.  This report studied data from 2000 – 2006.  Therefore, recent initiatives that have been implemented since 2006 were not considered and their impacts weren’t included in the data that generated the various rankings.

“This report is important because it helps us to identify factors that are making it difficult for residents to maintain a healthy lifestyle and helps us understand how we compare to other counties in the state.  With this knowledge, we can take steps to improve the health of our residents,” said Jonathan F. Rouis, Chairman of the Sullivan County Legislature. “The rankings, although new, are not a total surprise.  We’ve known for some time that our county faces challenges, and this program gives us the information needed to continue to take action steps,” continued Rouis.

The overall health outcomes include Mortality (50%) as defined by premature death before age 75, and Morbidity, which includes the following four items, the first three as reported by residents through a phone survey: self reported health status (10%), poor physical health days (10%), poor mental health days (10%), and the last, Low Birth Weight (LBW) (10%) as measured for this ranking.  Three of the four morbidity rankings are subjective and only one is objective.  What this means is that “morbidity” is being measured by primarily non-scientific methods.  Sullivan County’s Low Birth Rate in 2007 was 8.3%, the same as the Low Birth Rate on average for New York State in 2004-2006.

“The three causes that contribute the largest combined number of potential years of life lost in Sullivan County are, in this order:  Cancer, Accidental Death (such as car accidents, drowning, poisoning, etc.) and Heart Disease. Accidental Death rates for all ages, in particular, are about twice the state average,” said Legislator Ron Hiatt, Chairman of the Health and Family Services Committee.  

“While the poverty rate is traditionally high in rural counties, the factors in this report don’t directly correlate to Sullivan County’s population. We have already been working on many of the issues noted in the report.   Certainly, I have been aware of the high cancer rate in the county because of my family’s history.   These numbers are a percentage and it compares us with the counties that have a much higher population.  Ten out of 100 is 10 percent and ten out of a million is less than 10%,” said Leni C. Binder, Minority Leader and Vice-Chair of the Health and Family Services Committee.

“Premature deaths from cancer could easily be a result of the high percentage of people in Sullivan County with no health insurance.  According to the latest statistics, among people not eligible for Medicaid or Child Health Plus (ages 19-64), 22% have no health insurance, and are likely not getting good preventive medical care,” said Christopher A. Cunningham, Commissioner of the Division of Health and Family Services.  

“Early death from heart disease could partially be the result of a lack of physicians in some parts of the county as well as the long trip to any tertiary heart centers: people living close to such a facility have a much better chance at life saving intervention, for example, then someone living 100 miles from such a center, as Sullivan County residents do,” said Carol S. Ryan, Director of Public Health Services.

“The County Health rankings also show how Sullivan County ranks in factors which have the ability to impact health.  The factors include Health Behaviors (30%), including tobacco and alcohol use, diet and exercise, and unsafe sex; Clinical Care (20%), including access to medical care and quality of medical care; Social and Economic Factors (40%), including education, employment, income, family and social support and community safety; and Physical Environment (10%), which includes environmental quality and the built environment (air quality, liquor stores and access to healthy food stores),”

Sullivan County's rankings in these 4 Health Factor areas were:
Health Behaviors: 50 out of 62
Clinical Care: 56 out of 62
Social and Economic factors: 59 out of 62, and
Physical Environment:  51 out of 62
Overall, Sullivan County is ranked 58 out of 62 in Health Factors.

“Since 2006, new efforts have already been made to improve access to medical care, for example.  The new federally qualified health center in Monticello, a new physician’s office in Livingston Manor, the improved car seat program, the Cribs for Kids program, and the Community Health Worker program are all examples of efforts instituted recently that are expected to improve health in Sullivan County,” said David P. Fanslau, Sullivan County Manager.

“This is also an opportunity to make people aware of the Rural Health Network, whose mission it is to improve health in Sullivan County in three priority areas: maternal and child health outcomes, substance abuse, and access to health care.  These areas have been identified in these rankings and so it validates what the RHN has been working on,” added Ryan.
“Many other health and mental health promoting initiatives are in place in Sullivan County and it is disappointing that these factors are not included in the rankings.  For example, in addition to the RHN, there are the Dream Team, Communities That Care, Community Unity, Boys and Girls Club; various support groups, Integrated County Planning group, the many activities funded by the Youth Bureau, etc. in place. These also measure the spirit and hope that a community demonstrates in attempting to improve the well being of their residents,” added Rouis.  “I hope in future rankings these efforts will be part of the ranking of the well being, or health of the Sullivan County community,” concluded Rouis.

For more information about this press release, please contact, David Fanslau, County Manager, at 845-807-0450. Chris Cunningham, Commissioner, Division of Health and Family Services, 845-513-2277. Carol S. Ryan, RN, MPH, Director of Public Health Services, 845-292-5910.

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