National Health Report Ranks Worcester, Wicomico

BERLIN — A national report released last month revealed Worcester County is the 14th ranked jurisdiction in Maryland in terms of the overall health of its citizens, while neighboring Wicomico County came in much further down the line at 20th overall.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, in conjunction with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, last week released its annual County Health Rankings, a comprehensive report that ranks every county in every state in the U.S. on a variety of public health indicators. The extensive research examined a variety of health factors in each of the counties across the country from poor health days to smoking, obesity and excessive drinking to the motor vehicle crash fatalities and rates of sexually transmitted diseases.

The report also examines preventative measures in each of the jurisdictions, from the rates of diabetes screening and mammography screening to the number of uninsured adults, children in poverty and unemployment, for example. Worcester County came in ranked 14th of the 24 jurisdictions in Maryland, down from a 10th place ranking in the 2010 report. Wicomico County came in ranked 20th in the report, down one position from a 19th ranking in 2010.

Worcester and Wicomico ranked right around state and national averages in many indicators, while the two counties lagged behind in others. For example, 3.4 percent of adults in both Worcester and Wicomico reported having poor health days in the last 30 days, compared to the state average of 3.2 percent and the national average of 2.6 percent.

Other indicators illustrated where both Worcester and Wicomico lagged behind state averages and national benchmarks. For example, 21 percent of adults in both Worcester and Wicomico smoke cigarettes, compared to the state average of 15 percent and the national benchmark of just 15 percent. Similarly, 28 percent of Worcester adults are obese, while Wicomico came in at 32 percent. The state average is 27 percent, while the national benchmark is 25 percent.

One indicator where Worcester far exceeds state and national averages is the number of adults reporting excessive drinking. Eighteen percent of Worcester adults reported excessive or binge drinking in the last 30 days, while Wicomico came in at 14 percent. The state average is 15 percent, while the national benchmark is just 8 percent.

In terms of sexually transmitted diseases, Worcester reported 373 cases per 100,000 residents, while Wicomico came in at an astounding 677 cases per 100,000. The state average is 439 per 100,000 while the national average is just 83. Another indicator examines the number of victims of violent crime and shows some disparity. For example, the violent crime rate per 100,000 in Worcester is 590, while Wicomico came in at 983. The state average is 649 and the national benchmark is 100.

Worcester County Health Officer Deborah Goeller said this week the health department is familiar with the county health rankings report and will utilize some of the data to target trouble areas in the county.

“The new 2011 rankings are very timely for us in Worcester as we are currently in the process of conducting our community health assessment and preparing for our 2011 Worcester County Health Report Card,” she said. “We do this every five years and plan to have the process completed and report published within the next six months.”

Ironically, the annual county health report was released just days prior to the Worcester County Health Department’s annual summit held in Ocean City on Wednesday.

“In fact, we reviewed some of our preliminary assessment information at the annual public health conference yesterday [Wednesday],” she said. “Conference participants gave input and helped set priorities as well as provided solutions for health challenges facing our communities.”

Goeller said a middle-of-the-pack ranking for Worcester illustrates there are areas where the county does well on certain health indicators and areas where there is certainly room for improvement.

“With Worcester’s overall ranking of 14 out of 24 counties, we rank in the middle of the state,” she said. “The rankings show us where Worcester County is doing well and also shows us areas where Worcester may be able to improve.”

The national report is just another tool in the health department’s arsenal for targeting areas where improvement is needed. Goeller said the report provides a snapshot of the county’s shortcomings compared to other jurisdictions, which can be used when developing an overall health strategy for Worcester.

“Hopefully, with the ranking information, we will be able to better target our efforts,” she said. “The rankings may also point out other counties that we can learn from to improve the health of our community here in Worcester.”