Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fauquier Fares Well in County Health Rankings for Virginia

For the first time, Virginia's counties have been ranked based on how healthy its people are. The study, released by the University of Wisconsin, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, considers key factors that affect health. Among them: smoking, obesity, binge drinking, access to primary care providers, rates of violent crime, education level, air pollution levels and access to healthy foods.

Counties’ health scores were ranked on two sets of measures: health outcomes (length and quality of life); and weighted health factors (health behaviors (30%), access to and quality of clinical care (20%), social and economic factors (40%), and the physical environment (10%). Fauquier County fared pretty well, coming in as the 21st healthiest county for health outcomes, and 15th for health factors, out of 132.

We have a fairly educated populace, and that certainly helps in a lot of ways. A funny thing ... Fauquier ranked 110 of 132 on physical environment. Here in bucolic Fauquier, who would have thought? Perhaps this is a function of how it is determined. For instance, a county's access to healthier foods is decided by determining the percentage of zip codes healthy food outlets are available. We have lots of healthy food outlets, but they may concentrated in only three or four zip codes. And many new places have opened in the last few years, too recently to be counted. Fauquier ranked at only 26 % for that category; Virginia tallied 35 %.

The rankings in the study include some measures that reflect self-reporting by individuals and that express their personal beliefs. The technique of self-reporting differs from some of the other methods available to measure health, so that's good to keep in mind. It's also important to remember that much of the data from the study is from 2006 or earlier. Still, it's interesting.

One factor considered under health outcomes rates "poor mental health days." Fauquier (at 3.9 days per month) rated slightly higher than the Virginia average (3.2 days per month). Fauquier Health has been aware for years that there is a dearth of mental health providers in the county, and has been looking at the problem as part of its strategic planning.

Low birth weight is another health outcome considered in the University of Wisconsin study. Although results for Fauquier (6 %) indicate that we have fewer babies born here with low birth weights than the Virginia average (8 %), Fauquier Hospital's Family Birthing Center is addressing the concerns proactively. The Birthing Center is equipped with special beds called “isolettes” that provide a controlled, draft-free environment in which low birth weight babies grow most effectively. The Birthing Center has trained staff, including neonatal nurse-practitioners, who have the expertise necessary to support infants from birth through discharge.

Under health behaviors, smoking, adult obesity and motor vehicle death crash rate are among the factors listed as detrimental to the health of a community. Fauquier Health is already taking steps to address these issues:

Adult smoking (18%)– Fauquier Health has been a tobacco-free campus since July 4, 2008. The health system ran a stop smoking campaign for staff, offering medication, one-on-one “coaches” and financial incentives for those trying to quit.

Adult obesity (26 %)– A new Make One Change for staff members and LIFE Center members is being offered, providing education and prizes for those who want to make one healthy change in their lifestyle.

Motor vehicle crash rate (16)– A New Driver Control Clinic for teens and AARP Driver Safety Program for Motorists 50 and over are saving lives. Fauquier Health also enlisted the help of Sheriff's Office deputies at its KidSafe event to help parents with safe car seat positioning.

Under clinical care health factors, Fauquier Health is making a difference as well:

Uninsured adults (15 %)– Fauquier Health provided $6.1 million in charity care, community outreach and support of the Fauquier Free Clinic last year.

Diabetic screening (83 %)– At the Fauquier Health LIFE Center, diabetes self-management training classes and a diabetes support group are offered. Diabetes educators on staff and Fauquier Health endocrinologist Dr. Deepak Kashyap give lectures on diabetes management.

Fauquier Health has always tried to keep a close eye on the health needs of our community. Every two years, Fauquier Hospital contracts with the Fauquier division of the Virginia Health Department to carry out a health needs assessment. The information is specific to Fauquier, and is a great tool as the health system tries to plan for the health needs of the community.

The assessment has been used to:

-- Plan classes and events, like physician lectures on cholesterol, diabetes and other topics.

-- Develop long-term programs to battle problems like diabetes management or breast cancer detection.

-- Hire and train personnel. In the last few years, Fauquier Health has hired diabetes educators, a rheumatologist, Nandini Chhitwal, M.D.; endocrinologist, Deepak Kashap, M.D.; infectious disease specialist, Tam Ly, M.D.; and a medical oncologist, who will be starting work at the hospital this summer.

-- Decide on new technology purchases, like digital mammography (2009) or breast MRI (2010) equipment.

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