The philanthropic Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has labeled Richmond one of the state’s least healthy counties, using data on the quality and availability of education, employment, health care and housing.
With its research partner the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, the foundation released this week 50 state snapshots showing that where a person makes a home influences how long he or she lives. The foundation focused most strongly on health care.
Not surprisingly, North Carolina’s most prosperous counties fared the best and its least so, the worst.
“We need to do more to address the true underlying drivers of health, if we want to see improvements and decrease health-care costs.” Dr. Elizabeth Tilson, state health director and chief medical officer, said of the study.
“Our vision is a North Carolina that optimizes health and well-being for all people,” she said. “Our children will become more resilient, and grow into stronger, healthier adults … if we build (stronger) communities.”
The rankings show the five healthiest N.C. counties are Wake, Orange, Camden, Union, and Mecklenburg. The five in the poorest health, starting with least healthy, are Robeson, Scotland, Vance, Edgecombe and Columbus.
In a breakdown of important categories, the study reports that Richmond County ranks 87th in terms of health outcomes — how people fare after receiving care — and 96th in health factors, such as the county’s physical environment, clinical care, and social and economic factors.
County Health Director Tommy Jarrell found something to applaud in the findings.
“There was a time when we were 99th” in one study of health outcomes, Jarrell said, so the county has shown improvement.
Citing holding steady — though not dropping — in the rate of teenage pregnancy, the county’s welcoming of measures to decrease tobacco use and the implementation of programs to improve educational attainment in both the public schools and Richmond Community College, Jarrell said Richmond County could expect better outcomes over time.
The trouble with that, he said, is that everybody in North Carolina also is trying to improve outcomes.
“So if everybody does (better statistically), our ranking might not improve, but our scores will,” he said. “So we’ve got to work hard.”
Neighboring counties fared similarly to Richmond, with Anson ranking 89th in health outcomes and 87th in health factors; and Scotland, 99th in both. By contrast, the more prosperous Moore County ranked 19th and 14th.
Statewide, Wake, Orange and Union counties ranked Nos. 1, 2 and 3 in outcomes and Nos. 2, 1 and 3 in health factors, echoing their overall top-tier performances.
Late last month, the N.C. Institute of Medicine published its own report on child health in the state. Its report showed the following for Richmond County:
• a lack of primary-care physicians — 3.7 per 10,000 population, compared to 6.9 per 10,000 statewide.
• a higher degree of food insecurity — 21.3 percent, compared to 16.5 percent statewide.
• a higher reliance on health programs for those in poverty — Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, which threatened with a loss of financing — 39.3 percent, as opposed to 24.1 percent in all of North Carolina.
Twenty-two percent of children in North Carolina children live in poverty, compared to 20 percent nationwide.
The Institute of Medicine report also showed that Richmond County occupied the lowest tier used to rank economic well-being: Tier 1 of three.
In 1983, the N.C. General Assembly chartered the institute to serve as a non-political, independent source of analysis and advice on significant health issues.
The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the nation’s largest philanthropy dedicated solely to health.