Some important figures on the state of health care today. Video by Jordan Fenster/lohud.com Wochit
The Lower Hudson Valley’s strong economy, high-performing schools and quality health care system ranked it among the healthiest communities in New York, but inequality still caused a variety of problems.
Rockland County took the top spot as healthiest out of 62 counties statewide, followed by Westchester at No. 3, and Putnam at No. 5, based on a variety of key health and social issues, a new national study shows.
Most people are also eating healthy, exercising and not smoking throughout the three local counties, which joined No. 2 Saratoga, just north of Albany, and No. 4 Nassau, on Long Island, in the top five, according to research by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
Some higher-than-average scores in child poverty, severe housing problems and lengthy commutes, however, prompted Rockland officials to vow to improve public health services across the county.
“We know that some groups in our community may not be doing as well as others,” said County Health Commissioner Dr. Patricia Schnabel Ruppert. “There is still much work to do, especially with our underserved and racially and ethnically disparate populations.”
Westchester’s ranking jumped up one spot from last year, as it improved on its health outcomes that focused on length of life and other quality of life issues.
“The overall health of Westchester County residents is on an upward trajectory,” said County Health Commissioner Dr. Sherlita Amler, who raised similar concerns about the toll of inequality on health.
“While Westchester residents enjoy access to quality care and many have adapted healthier lifestyles, we still have residents who struggle with the burden of poverty and health disparities who need our help,” she said. “Clearly these are complex and difficult problems where more work needs to be done.”
Health factors of concern statewide included alcohol and drug abuse, obesity and chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cancer, the study shows.
Overall, the Lower Hudson Valley population graduated high school and college at rates higher than state averages, and residents of the region found it easier to land a job, although grueling commutes for many local drivers took a toll on their well-being.
The Bronx ranked least healthy for the eighth consecutive year of the study, but most of the other unhealthy communities tended to be more rural and economically depressed upstate counties.
The Lower Hudson Valley has consistently ranked in the top 10 healthiest places to live statewide since 2011.
What follows are some critical findings for Rockland, Westchester and Putnam from the study that compared counties within all 50 states. It used data between 2011 and 2016, tapping into sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Medical Association, U.S. Census and the FBI.
The county had the lowest premature death rate, ranking it first in length of life. A person dying well younger than 75 affects this key health stat, which has a state average of 5,300 years of potential life lost. Rockland had 4,000 years lost.
Limited teen pregnancy also stood out for Rockland, which had 13 births per 100,000 females, ages 15 to 19. That is lower than an average of 18 births statewide.
Moreover, just 17 percent of Rockland children live in a single-parent household, compared to 35 percent statewide.
But the community didn’t fare as well in related categories, since 25 percent, or one in four children under 18, live in poverty. That is higher than the state average of 21 percent. Top performers across the country had just 12 percent of children in poverty.
“As we delve deeper into the rankings data in the next few weeks, we will highlight other areas of focus as we continue to take important steps towards achieving our goal of keeping all Rockland County residents healthy and safe,” Ruppert said.
Another troubling statistic: Rockland households with at least one of four housing problems — overcrowding, high housing costs, or lack of kitchen or plumbing facilities — are higher than state averages, at 27 percent to 24 percent.
Rockland’s high school graduation rate of 86 percent, however, is better than the state average of 79 percent, and its 4.2 percent unemployment rate is lower than the state’s 4.8 percent average.
Finding primary care doctors is also easier in Rockland, which has one per 1,110 people and is better than the state ratio of 1 to 1,200. Rockland’s mental health access, at one provider per 400 people is slightly worse than the state ratio of 1 to 390.
Top mental health access performers nationally have 1 provider per 330 people.
Some unhealthy behaviors among Rockland adults included obesity, at 24 percent, smoking, at 12 percent, and excessive drinking, at 16 percent. Each stat hovered around state averages and improved on last year.
As for that commute, the percentage of Rockland’s workforce driving alone to work is a whopping 70 percent, blowing past the 53 percent state average, and 41 percent of those lonely Rockland commuters travel more than 30 minutes.
The county has consistently ranked in the top five healthiest communities in New York since 2011, claiming the top “health outcomes” spot in 2015 before sliding to third in 2016, and coming in at No. 2 last year.
“The county health rankings show yet another reason why Rockland is one of the best places to live and work in the state,” said County Executive Ed Day.
An abundance of doctors and health care facilities helped Westchester’s high rankings, such as having one primary care doctor per 730 people, and far better than the state ratio of 1 to 1,200.
Education also helped Westchester, where 72 percent of the population (ages 25 to 44) finished some level of college. That beat the 67 percent state average.
Westchester’s high school graduation rate of 88 percent also outperformed the state average of 79 percent, and its 4.2 percent unemployment rate is lower than the 4.8 percent average.
Far fewer children here live in poverty than statewide, with the county’s rate at 12 percent compared to 22 percent. And low teen pregnancy, at 11 births per 100,000, as compared to the statewide average of 18 births, also helped the score.
“This is good news for Westchester County residents, as well as for our Health Department and its many community partners,” said County Executive George Latimer. “We must continue to work together to improve the health and well-being of all county residents.”
For an example of the inequality, county officials said the solid poverty and teen birth scores contained stark racial disparities.
The report found that 23 percent of black and 23 percent of Hispanic children lived in poverty, as compared to 4 percent of white children.
Similarly, the burden of teen births was much greater in communities of color. The teen birth rate for Hispanics, blacks and whites was 27 per thousand, 19 per thousand and 2 per thousand, respectively.
One in four Westchester households, like Rockland, also had at least one of the housing problems: Overcrowding, high housing costs, or lack of kitchen or plumbing facilities.
Some unhealthy behaviors among Westchester adults included obesity, at 21 percent, smoking, at 11 percent, and excessive drinking, at 19 percent, and each hovered around state averages.
Westchester has consistently ranked in the top five communities in terms of the crucial “health factors” category, which provides insight into a range of social and economic issues.
Solid households for children stood out landing Putnam second in terms of health factors, including a 92 percent high school graduation rate that falls just shy of the best nationally, at around 95 percent.
Similarly, just 6 percent of Putnam children live in poverty, which is well below the average of 21 percent statewide, and best counties nationally, at about 12 percent.
People here are also working at the highest regional rate, as its unemployment rate of 4 percent is below the statewide 4.8 percent.
Limited violent crime, with 50 reported offenses per 100,000 people, also helped Putnam’s rank, and far outperformed the statewide average of 394.
Some unhealthy behaviors among Putnam adults included obesity, at 25 percent, smoking, at 15 percent, and excessive drinking, at 24 percent. The state averages are 25 percent, 14 percent and 19 percent, respectively. Putnam’s numbers increased slightly from last year.
Access to primary care doctors, however, is a problem for Putnam as there is one of them per 2,020 people, which is worse than the state average of 1 to 1,200.
Still, Putnam has consistently ranked in the top five healthiest counties in terms of “health outcomes,” claiming first place in 2011 and 2012.
Additional details about the rankings are available at countyhealthrankings.org.
2018 County Health Rankings
- New York
- St. Lawrence
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