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Eight Communities Using County Health Rankings for Impact

This week, we deployed the eighth edition of the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, a project of the Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Rankings compare counties within each state on more than 30 factors that impact health.

Since we helped launched the site in 2010, there has been demonstrable real-world impact in in the places where it matters most: local communities across the country. Some counties have made great strides, and  the best of these are recognized annually by the RWJF Culture of Health Prize.

I would like to highlight a few of these counties that are taking small yet important steps towards creating larger impact. This list is neither comprehensive nor representative. It is a selection of the encouraging news clips that hit my inbox each week.

Coalition Building

When the initial rankings came out in 2011, Jackson County, Indiana was ranked 74th out of the state’s 92 counties in health outcomes. In response, local activists created the “Healthy Jackson County Coalition,” a grassroots effort to promote healthy lifestyles. Their steady progress over the years has culminated in additional help from funders at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Last month, CDC granted the community $1.15 million over two years to strengthen the Coalition’s efforts. Read more in the Seymour Tribune.

Task Force Development

Wake County, North Carolina may be ranked first in the state in terms of health outcomes, but, they are not resting on their laurels. They have formed a 25-person task force to further improve their health behaviors. Citing the rankings, this News Observer editorial points out that 25% of the county is obese and the rate of STDs is high compared to other top-performing counties. And even within this relatively-healthy community, there are population disparities. As Sig Hutchinson, chair of the Wake County Commission, said, “what we’re finding is that your ZIP code is a stronger determinant of how long you live than your DNA code.”

Health Policy Summit

St. Clair County, Illinois isn’t taking its ranking laying down. It is consistently one of the lowest-performing counties in Illinois. Indeed, its health factors are ranked 91 out of 102 Illinois counties in the 2017 report. In response, the county held a Health Policy Summit in March 2017 to focus on the five health priorities identified by its healthcare commission: violence prevention, mental health, quality of life, maternal and child health/sexual health, and chronic disease prevention. Organizers collected the summit’s summary points into a strategy for guiding collective impact.

Community Improvement Planning

Midland County, Michigan used the Rankings to create a “Community Health Improvement Plan” or CHIP. The plan was developed using the Rankings data and other sources and aims  to foster conversations regarding the targeted improvement areas. As detailed by the Midland Daily News, the county has been holding public meetings to discuss health successes and challenges regarding mental health care. “Working in collaboration is the best way to move the needle on health issues in our community,” said Sharon Mortensen, committee chair for CHIP.

Strategic Planning

Health outcomes in Lucas County, Ohio (Toledo) ranked 73 out of 88 Ohio counties in the 2016 Rankings. In response, the Toledo Blade reports that they are rolling out a three-year strategic plan aimed at addressing the community's health priorities, such as obesity, drugs/opiates, infant mortality and workforce development. 

National Coverage of Local Challenges

Concordia Parish, Louisiana is one of the lowest-ranked counties in a state that consistently ranks at the bottom of health outcomes. The Rankings highlight the dire state of this community’s health where a quarter of the county’s adults report being in fair or poor health. These findings were cited by Julia Belluz, Vox’s Senior Health Reporter, as reason for deeper journalistic examination. Belluz visited the county and wrote a detailed Vox story in December 2016 focused on the residents’ struggles. The story was titled, “We visited one of America's sickest counties. We're afraid it's about to get worse.” 

Local Awards for Grassroots Efforts

Inspired by improvement in its ranking relative to its peer counties, a community coalition in Jefferson County, Wisconsin has established an annual “Wellness Wheel Award.” As the Daily Union reports, the award recognizes grassroots efforts by a “community workplace, organization or individual mak­ing strides to provide and promote healthy lifestyles.” Ranked 25th in health outcomes in 2011, this year Jefferson County is ranked ninth among Wisconsin’s 72 counties.

Bike Rides and Fitness Grants

As a cyclist myself, this might be my favorite story. In 2010, following the first Rankings release, community members in Ballard County, Kentucky established the “Ballard County Wheels and Wings Committee” to promote annual bike rides. This was particularly welcomed in a county that has poor access to fitness opportunities. As the West Kentucky Star reports, over the years, the ride grew from 18 to 120 riders. Recently, ride organizers announced that they will also be giving out fitness grants to projects, events, or venues in Ballard County that would improve fitness opportunities for the county’s citizens. I say, ride on!

These diverse eight communities took different approaches, but they have one thing in common: They used the County Health Rankings as a launching pad to deepen conversations across the community and demonstrate  that small community-wide actions can create big impacts.

Would you like to improve your community’s health? The County Health Rankings Action Center is a great place to start.