For the second consecutive year, Ottawa County was ranked the healthiest community in the state of Michigan according to the sixth annual county-by-county assessment program.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute released the 2015 County Health Rankings and Roadmaps report last week, and identified Ottawa County as the No. 1 overall ranking community in terms of health out of 82 counties in Michigan.
It is the second consecutive year the county has been ranked first in the state and it was previously ranked second in 2012 and 2013, according to Ottawa County Department of Public Health 2014 Annual Report.
Ottawa County has improved or maintained 85 percent of the 35 indicators in the health ranking since 2014, according to Kristina Wieghmink, communications specialist at Ottawa County Department of Public Health. She attributes the consistent strong ranking in overall health to the collaborative efforts not only in the community but also in West Michigan.
“We pride ourselves in that. We do recognize in our county we have incredibly strong partnerships with nonprofit organizations, schools, physician offices and hospitals,” said Wieghmink. “We come together in different phases: The first stage may be the research phase where we may do a health needs assessment and survey to find out what our residents are dealing with. Then we start developing, planning what programs we need.”
The sixth annual report measures the current health of communities in states across the nation to provide a county-by-county comparison of the variety of factors impacting the future health of counties and their residents. By providing a county review in terms of overall health outcomes and factors, the report is intended to raise awareness in communities and ultimately be used by local government, community members, business leaders and agencies to develop and implement strategies addressing health issues.
Each community is evaluated on factors in categories such as physical environment, social and economic factors, clinical care, health behaviors, length of life and quality of life. The specific indicators examined in the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps are then used as a weighted summary to rank a county’s overall ranking.
Measures include premature death, adult smoking and obesity, excessive drinking, teen pregnancy rate, diabetic monitoring, access to primary care, income inequality, academic achievement level and air pollution.
Ottawa County, which has a population of more than 270,000, was ranked first in Health Outcomes, with a second-place ranking for length of life and a third-place for quality of life. Only 10 percent of adults reported fair or poor health during 2006 to 2012, which is better than the average in Michigan of 14 percent and within the 90th percentile for top-performing counties in the country.
“Overall, residents do report they have a better, or enjoy a longer, life expectancy,” said Wieghmink. “Part of that (comes) from the environment. We have a lot of parks or ways people can be active. And also, for those who do have adequate health insurance … and means of transportation, people are taking advantage of that care.”
Notable health behaviors in the county include: 80 percent of the population has adequate access to locations for physical activity, only 11 percent are uninsured, and the median household income is nearly $58,000, which is almost $10,000 higher than the Michigan average.
“The most concern is the clinical care, and this can be debated in the medical profession, but … some of it is due to lack of access or availability of dental and mental health services,” said Wieghmink. “There are some offices that may not take Medicaid … and there are some barriers such as transportation since we live in such a rural area.”
Despite its high ranking, Ottawa County performed below the top U.S. performing communities in a number of health factors such as excessive drinking, sexually transmitted infections, unemployment rate, children in poverty, violent crimes, air pollution and driving alone to work.
The OCDPH’s 2014 annual report indicated 13 percent of children in the community live in poverty and addressed the challenge by partnering with the Ottawa County Food Policy Council, five food pantries, 16 churches and employees to hold a Community GiveFest. More than 4,600 food items were donated, and 63 percent of the donations were considered healthy foods.
With a number of continuing challenges facing the county, Wieghmink said the organization incorporates data and information from the County Health Rankings with more community-specific assessments to develop new programs that address residential needs.
“We want to make it an active plan. With the planning we are doing next, we incorporate this with more county-specific data and the next phase is to incorporate that information with the Ottawa County Community Health Needs Assessment,” said Wieghmink. “That is when we are planning on opening up that conversation to the health professionals and the public to continue developing those plans and programs.”
The Ottawa County Community Health Needs Assessment is anticipated to be released in May and identifies health and health services issues and focuses on gathering feedback from individuals, professionals and community leaders.
“It is a chance for people — not only in the health community — to help in that planning but by opening up the doors to the public and residents to tell us if this information is a true representation pulled from data of the population,” said Wieghmink.
Ottawa County’s close neighbor, Kent County, was ranked 17th for overall health outcomes and 12th in terms of health factors — an improvement from its 14th place ranking in 2014.
Only 13 percent of residents under the age of 65 out of more than 620,000 people in Kent County are uninsured, which is on par with the overall state average.
Other socioeconomic and health behaviors contributing to Kent County’s 12th place ranking in health factors include an 18 percent adult smoking rate, 21 percent of residents reporting physical inactivity, an unemployment rate of 6.5 percent, and 409 reported violent crime offenses per 100,000.
Ranking for health outcomes in other West Michigan communities included Allegan as 13th, Ionia as 20th, Barry as 21st, Montcalm as 28th, Kalamazoo as 37th and Muskegon as 65th. Counties fared slightly different when ranked on an overall basis for health factors: Kalamazoo at 17, Barry at 18, Allegan at 21, Ionia at 24, Montcalm at 44 and Muskegon at 66.
Measurable data for the 2015 County Health Rankings and Roadmap report were derived from a number of sources, including National Center for Health Statistics, Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System, CDC Diabetes Interactive Atlas, USDA Food Environment Atlas, Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, Small Area Health Insurance Estimates, Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.