Carroll County is ranked No. 33 of 156 Georgia counties surveyed this year, according to data released this week by the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Last year, Carroll County was ranked No. 38 by the study.
The rankings compare counties in each state, using data from vital statistics and government health surveys. The overall score is determined by a number of factors, including health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic factors and the physical environment.
Loy Howard, president/CEO of Tanner Health System, said positive progress in community health has to be the work of many organizations, but Tanner is doing its part to make improvements. He said access to care is one important step.
"We added 23 new physicians last year," Howard said. "We now have eight cardiologists serving our staff. Cardiovascular disease is the number one disease, and it's important we focus our efforts where there's greatest need."
He said Tanner is also doing several things to improve cancer care. These include more timely access, with "three days to treatment" options.
"We've also made an investment in patient navigators, who are specific to cancer and can help patients overcome obstacles to their care," he said. "It might be problems with transportation, Medicare, dietary help or spiritual aid. It lets us treat the patient and not just the cancer and helps improve outcomes."
Howard said Tanner wants to coordinate and partner with other organizations to improve the health of the community, including initiatives on health concerns, such as smoking and obesity. He said Tanner is planning to purchase a mobile mammography unit, which could take breast cancer screening out into the community.
Dr. Jack Birge, chairman of the Carroll County Board of Health, said the county has a good medical community, but one factor that keeps some health statistics high is lack of health insurance for a sizable portion of the population.
“It’s a public health problem, and we have to focus on people without healthcare,” Birge said. “So many programs in the health department have nothing to do with morbidity or mortality. We’re wasting a lot of money on areas, from sexual abstinence to quitting smoking, and we haven’t seen any changes in those behaviors.”
Birge said he would like to see more universal coverage of health benefits to combat cardiovascular disease. He said the county has a very large segment of the population not covered by any health insurance.
“We have seen a reduction in mortality strictly among those who reach the hospital and have adequate care,” he said. “There are many people who suffer sudden death and never make it to the hospital. Efforts in prevention are important in that group. It goes back to coverage for healthcare. We have to have both prevention and treatment.”
Carroll County’s best report grades came in the category of morbidity, where it is ranked No. 27 in the state. This rating takes into account mental or physical health and birthweights.
The county ranked No. 46 in clinical care. According to the report, 84 percent of the population gets diabetes screening, compared with a state average of 83 percent. However, mammography screening was rated at 59 percent, compared to the state average of 66 percent.
Carroll County ranked near the bottom of the counties in physical environment factors, coming in at No. 152 of 156 counties.
The county has 12 air pollution-particulate matter days, compared with a state average of 2. Limited access to healthy foods was rated at 23 percent, compared to the state average on 10 percent.
The report shows that, generally, the wealthiest Georgia counties are the healthiest.
For the second consecutive year, Fayette, the state’s wealthiest county, was ranked No. 1 in health. It was followed by Forsyth, Oconee, Cherokee, Gwinnett and Cobb counties, mostly wealthy, suburban counties.
The Georgia county rated with the worst health was Talbot, followed by Terrell, Calhoun and Stewart counties.
As for neighboring counties, Coweta ranked with better health at No. 14. Other adjacent counties are further down the list, below Carroll. They are Douglas, No. 36; Haralson, No. 96; and Heard, No. 105.
The report provides rankings for 156 of Georgia’s 159 counties. Not ranked were Echols, Taliaferro and Webster counties. The researchers have a policy of not ranking a county if they are unable to secure reliable data for at least 50 percent of the measures within a category.