Clark County is ninth-healthiest in the state

Report say it lags in ratio of primary care providers

By Marissa Harshman, Columbian health reporter

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The top, the bottom

The top 10 healthiest counties in Washington are San Juan, Kittitas, Whitman, Island, King, Whatcom, Chelan, Douglas, Clark and Franklin. The 10 least healthy counties in the state, beginning with No. 30, are Yakima, Grays Harbor, Cowlitz, Stevens, Pend Oreille, Mason, Asotin, Okanogan, Wahkiakum and Ferry.

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County health rankings

Clark County is the ninth-healthiest county in the state, according to a national report released Wednesday.

The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ranked more than 3,000 counties in all 50 states to compile the County Health Rankings.

The research looked at a variety of measures that affect health such as the rate of people dying before age 72, high school graduation rates, access to healthier foods, air pollution levels, income, and rates of smoking, obesity and teen births.

Last year, the first year of the rankings, Clark County was eighth-healthiest in the state.

Clark County’s spot at No. 9 makes it the healthiest county in Southwest Washington. Neighboring Skamania County came in at No. 16 and Cowlitz County was near the bottom at No. 32 (of 39 counties).

Dr. Alan Melnick, Clark County’s health officer, said the rankings provide a glimpse of the health of the community but don’t cover all aspects. For instance, the research doesn’t consider cardiovascular disease, preventive cancers, suicides, homicides or years of productive life lost.

“Rankings like this give us a snapshot, but it really is our responsibility to look at these a little bit deeper,” Melnick said.

A significant shortfall in Clark County is the ratio of primary care providers to residents, according to the report. Clark County has one primary care provider for every 970 residents. The state average is one provider for every 736 residents.

“We’ve known that access is an issue for a long time,” Melnick said.

Health officials have also discussed how to improve access to care for the 15 percent of county residents who are uninsured, Melnick said.

As a result, health officials have partnered with providers to deliver prenatal care to low-income women and are pursuing the creation of a regional health care authority, he said.

The state averages also fared better than county averages in adult obesity rates, mammography screening, access to recreational facilities and air pollution/particulate matter days.

Obesity rates in Clark County have long been a concern of health officials, Melnick said. The rankings reported Clark County’s obesity rate at 29 percent. But factor in the number of overweight people and the number climbs to two-thirds of the population, Melnick said.

But the county also has several strengths.

One area where Clark County ranked much higher than the state average was access to healthy foods. The report found that residents in 84 percent of Clark County ZIP codes have access to healthy foods, which is defined as grocery stores, produce stands or farmers markets. The state average is 69 percent.

The county also fared better than the state in the number of sexually transmitted infections, low-birth weights, high school graduation rates and premature deaths.

In addition, Melnick said, the county has strong neighborhood associations and good partnerships between organizations.

Marissa Harshman: 360-735-4546 or marissa.harshman@columbian.com.