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West Georgia Counties Show Improvements in Health

Residents in Carroll, Haralson and Heard counties have made significant improvements in their health behaviors, according to new county health rankings.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute released its annual County Health Rankings report on March 16. The rankings provide an easy-to-use snapshot to compare the health of counties within each state based on more than 30 factors that impact health, including commuting times, education, exercise, housing and jobs. Each county is ranked on two overall measures — health outcomes and health factors.

Health outcomes include premature death and quality of life issues like poor mental and physical health days. For health factors, the report detailed behaviors such as adult tobacco use, physical inactivity and teen births, as well as clinical care issues, socioeconomic factors and the physical environment.

The new health rankings show that Carroll County is in the top 36 percent of the healthiest counties in Georgia. Carroll County ranked 58th among Georgia’s 159 counties for its health outcomes and 60th for health factors. While the rankings are lower than last year’s placement of 56th for health outcomes and 52nd for health factors, there was a significant improvement in health behaviors.

This year, Carroll County climbed to 56th in health behaviors from last year’s ranking of 63rd by making improvements in the areas of smoking, obesity, access to exercise opportunities and alcohol-impaired driving deaths. Part of that boost is owed to the county’s decrease in the percentage of adult residents who smoke, which is down from 22 percent to 18 percent. Haralson and Heard counties also saw year-to-year gains.

Haralson County improved from 141st to 95th in health outcomes and improved from 91st to 55th for health factors. The county also showed significant improvement in the percentage of adult residents who smoke. That percentage went from 30 percent to 17 percent.

Heard County slid eight places from 52nd to 60th in health outcomes, but improved from 92nd to 66th for health factors. That improvement is partly attributed to a decrease in the percentage of alcohol-impaired deaths, which is down from 36 percent to 31 percent.

While rural counties nationwide have higher rates of obesity, smoking, teen births and uninsured adults than their urban counterparts, Carroll County has improved its standing in those categories. Tanner Health System has been working to impact the region’s score through mitigating the state’s severe clinical staff shortages and improving the quality of healthcare services. Tanner, whose service area includes Carroll, Haralson and Heard counties, is also improving community wellness through Get Healthy, Live Well.

“Health systems across the country are moving toward prevention and reducing the number of patients who have to seek treatment in a hospital,” said Loy Howard, president and CEO of Tanner Health System. “Tanner is leading the way by providing services and programs to improve community health.”

Through Get Healthy, Live Well’s community-based task forces, Tanner is working closely with an array of individuals and groups who have an interest in the community’s overall health. The task forces include business organizations, chambers of commerce, childcare providers, civic groups, faith-based institutions, farmers, restaurateurs, school officials, social service agencies and rural health clinics. Free services offered through Get Healthy, Live Well include health screening events, walking groups and cooking classes.

Get Healthy, Live Well also offers evidence-based community wellness programs like the Diabetes Prevention Program, Kids N Fitness and Fresh Start, a tobacco cessation program. These evidence-based programs, which are backed by more than 20 years of research and include education on chronic disease management, empower patients to lead healthier lifestyles so they can better manage their health.

“It can be hard to change unhealthy behaviors,” said Howard. “That’s why Get Healthy, Live Well is offering these resources to the community. We have made it a priority to expand our efforts this year with a new physician referral program that links patients to these evidence-based programs.”

Carroll County also improved in the area of preventable hospital stays, from a hospital discharge rate of 39 for ambulatory care-sensitive conditions per 1,000 fee-for-service Medicare enrollees to 35, which places it ahead of many of the best-performing counties in the nation. Preventable hospital stays include hospital admissions for diseases and conditions that could have been prevented with proper ambulatory care, including treatment in a clinic or medical practice. The expansion of Tanner Urgent Care services to Carrollton and Bremen in addition to the service’s Villa Rica location has helped by giving people another option to seek care on a walk-in basis, including on the weekends and in the evenings. Tanner Urgent Care provides care for more than 44,000 visits a year.

Three years ago, Tanner conducted a Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) survey to better understand the community’s health concerns and needs. With this information, an action plan was developed to help improve the health of local community members. While a lot of progress has been made in improving the community’s health, Tanner is always looking for new and innovative ways to encourage patients to lead a healthier lifestyle.

“Leading a healthy lifestyle not only helps with weight management, it reduces the risk of chronic disease and promotes overall health,” said Howard. “We recently conducted another CHNA that will give us information on what the community sees as the most pressing health issues.”

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People : Loy Howard