Ocean City Today

Worcester health outcomes improve over 2015 results

By Brian Gilliland | Jun 29, 2017
Michael Franklin

(June 30, 2017) Worcester County gained some ground in the healthy living rankings, moving from 11th place in 2015 to 10th place this year, according to an annual report by the Robert Wood Johnson program released earlier this month.

The county placed first in the state under the study’s physical environment heading, which includes factors such as air pollution, drinking water quality and commute time. On the other end of rankings, however, in ranked 21st in the state in socioeconomic factors.

Chief among those negative factors are unemployment, measured at 10.6 percent during the study as compared to 5.2 percent in the state and children in poverty at 21 percent as compared to a state average of 14 percent.

On the positive side, violent crime is below the state average and injury deaths are only slightly higher than the state average.

“I think that when I look at the numbers from an overall perspective and quality places to live I think it’s great we’re in the top ten,” Michael Franklin, CEO of Atlantic General Hospital said. “We’re competing with Montgomery, Frederick and Howard counties that are developing faster — we’re ranking with them instead of other areas.”

In examining the 2015 numbers, Franklin was concerned about the premature death ranking, which stood at 7,300 years of life lost before age 75 per 100,000 population. That put Worcester at 20th in the state. At the time, it was almost a millennium more than the state’s average of 6,430.

Improvements have been made. Worcester is still higher than the state’s average of 6,400, but has moved to 6,600 years and 14th place. The healthiest states in the country lose 5,200 years.

Clinical care rankings have also improved from seventh place to fourth, and are tied mainly to access to care.

The major challenge in the county, Franklin said, is that the north end of the county is more suburban, but the character of Worcester changes to rural the farther south you travel.

“We’re dealing with isolation and resources … There are still a lot of people per primary care physicians and dentists,” Franklin said.

In 2015, the state average for a patient to primary care physician ratio was 1,131 to 1, but was 1,433 to 1 in Worcester. The number has improved to 1,230 to 1, as compared to the state average of 1,130 to 1. Dentists remain scarce, as the state average has moved from 1,392 to 1 to 1,350 to 1, and Worcester’s rate has gone from 1,912 to 1 to 1,720 to 1.

“We’re dealing with how we bring in primary care physicians and how we deal with the problem more creatively because there are fewer doctors nationally,” Franklin said.

Expanding telemedicine options and leveraging the skills of nurse practitioners and physician’s assistants also show promise, Franklin said.

“We still seem to have challenges, including binge drinking and obesity. There are a number of challenges to overcome, and we need to address these to combat the other factors,” Franklin said.

The full report is available at www.countyhealthrankings.org.

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