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Posted: April 4, 2013 9:00 p.m.

Study ranks Georgia counties

A study, which ranked Georgia counties based on its combined health and economic stats, has ranked Newton County in the top 60 and Rockdale County in the top 25 in the state.

The Partner Up! for Public Health Campaign ranked Newton 58, ahead of Carroll County at 59 and behind Whitfield County at 56.5; and ranked Rockdale 24.5, ahead of Camden County at 25 and just under DeKalb County at 24, in its 2013 County by County Power Rankings of Georgia counties based on combined health and economic rankings.

Charles Hayslett, CEO of Hayslett Group LLC, which manages the Partner Up! Campaign, said the purpose of the annual Partner Up! Power Rankings is to spotlight the relationship between health status and economic vitality at a community level and to encourage the state’s leaders to develop policies that recognize and address those relationships.

“One of the things we came to realize early in this campaign is that the State of Georgia really doesn’t seem to have a coordinated strategy for addressing the very difficult challenges facing Georgia’s poorest and least healthy counties,” Hayslett said. “We’ve got some areas of rural south Georgia that are for all practical purposes disaster areas both economically and in terms of health status.”

“Its purpose is to try to encourage improvements in the state’s current public health care system,” he said.
Oconee County again claimed first place in the rankings. Crisp and Wilcox counties tied at the bottom of the rankings in last place among Georgia’s 159 counties.

The Partner Up! for Public Health Campaign is funded by Healthcare Georgia Foundation.

For the past two years, the campaign has compiled and published Health and Economic Power Ratings that combine county-level health outcomes rankings produced by the University of Wisconsin with economic rankings calculated by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs in connection with the state’s job tax credits program.

The University of Wisconsin program provides health outcomes rankings for most of the counties in the United States, based on a variety of factors, including premature death, the percentage of the population reporting being in poor or fair health, the number of work-days missed for reasons of poor mental or physical health, and the percentage of babies born at low birth weight.

The DCA job tax credit rankings are built on a formula that incorporates average per capita income, the local unemployment rate, and the local poverty rate.

Hayslett said the contrast between Oconee County at the top of rankings and Crisp and Wilcox at the bottom of the rankings, “should tell us just about all we need to know about this problem and its severity.

“Crisp and Wilcox, side-by-side neighbors in south central Georgia, have a combined population that is just about equal to Oconee’s,” he said. “The 2012 Census estimates put both Oconee and Crisp-Wilcox combined at about 33,000 people, but that’s where the similarity ends. The per capita income in Oconee is double that of Crisp or Wilcox, and the premature death rate in Crisp and Wilcox is more than double Oconee’s.

“Substantially more people in Crisp and Wilcox report being in poor or fair health than in Oconee, and they say they miss more work for reasons of poor physical or mental health,” he said. “And those results are mirrored in health care costs. According to data from the Department of Community Health, Georgia’s total FY 2012 Medicaid spending for Crisp and Wilcox combined was $44.2 million versus $11.2 million for Oconee – for, again, nearly identical populations.
“Our argument isn’t that we need to cut Medicaid spending in Crisp and Wilcox, but we do think the magnitude and gravity of the economic and health crises in certain parts of rural Georgia are such that we need to break the mold and look for a strategy that addresses those and other issues in combination,” Hayslett said.

“It seems clear that we are not going to be able to improve the economies of many of these areas without, among other things, improving the health of the populations that reside there, and that will probably require an invigorated and expanded public health effort as well as state-backed efforts to encourage private providers – physicians and hospitals – to go into underserved areas.”

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