County Health Rankings Announced for Lehigh Valley

Higher prevalence of illness continues to affect quality of life despite improved access to high-quality medical care.

On Wednesday the Fifth Annual County Health Rankings were released. The rankings show the health position of nearly every county in the nation and illustrate that much of what affects health occurs outside of the doctor’s office. They focus on specific factors that we know affect health, such as education, income, water quality, rates of smoking, obesity and other factors. The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program is a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. http://www.countyhealthrankings.org/app/pennsylvania/2014/rankings/outcomes/overall

The Health Care Council of the Lehigh Valley (HCC) was formed to measure and improve the broadly defined health of the Lehigh Valley. Created by the not-for-profit Health Care Systems of the Lehigh Valley and expanded to include local health departments and the community health center, the HCC’s objective is to cooperatively update our world-class Community Health Needs Assessment (CHNA) to continue to galvanize action to provide a dramatic, demonstrable and sustained impact on the health of the citizens of the Lehigh Valley.

Rankings for Northampton and Lehigh Counties:

Overall Health Outcomes Rankings:

– Northampton (21st out of 67 counties) and Lehigh (19th out of 67 counties) counties have retained their position in the healthiest one-third of all counties in the state of Pennsylvania.
– The Health Outcomes Rankings are determined by combining the mortality (length of life) rankings with the morbidity (quality of life) rankings. These rankings reveal very different descriptions of health in the Lehigh Valley.

Length of Life (Mortality) Rankings:

– Northampton and Lehigh Counties have held fast to their positions in the best 20 percent of all counties in Pennsylvania. People are more likely to live life to a full term in the Lehigh Valley than other counties in Pennsylvania.
– Northampton ranks as the 8th best mortality rate in the state for 2013 and 2014.
– Lehigh ranks as the 13th best mortality rate in the state for 2013 and 2014.

Quality of Life (Morbidity) Rankings:

– Due to higher numbers of poor physical health days and poor mental health days, as well as high rates of low birth weights, Lehigh and Northampton Counties are in the bottom 47 percent of all counties in Pennsylvania, with Northampton falling down to the bottom 20 percent.
– Northampton County ranks as number 53 out of 67 counties in 2014 for Quality of Life.
– Lehigh County ranks as number 35 out of 67 counties in 2014 for Quality of Life.

Report Findings Summary:

– The region continues to be good at reducing preventable deaths (mortality) as evident by premature death rates steadily improving over the last five years. This has always been a strength and can be attributed to high-quality medical care providers.
– Morbidity/quality of life continues to indicate that we have higher prevalence of illness in the Valley, especially in Northampton County, where higher numbers of poor physical health and poor mental health days are reported.
– There is an improvement in preventable hospital stays, which are important in reducing health care costs, improving health outcomes, and creating better patient experiences.

Future Areas of Focus:

– Individual health behaviors:

– Smoking, obesity and physical inactivity are the leading contributors to poor health in the Lehigh Valley.

Social factors:

– Unemployment and children living in poverty are both on the rise, and access to exercise opportunities is low. These factors contribute to poor health now and in the future for the Lehigh Valley.

Maternal/child health:

– Low birth weight, teen births and sexually transmitted diseases in the Lehigh Valley are relatively high compared to Pennsylvania and national averages.

Our region’s strength continues to be high-quality medical care, and the numbers show trending data indicating that our medical care providers are getting better at improving access to care and reducing unnecessary hospitalizations.

Unfortunately, factors that influence our health – individual behaviors, and social and environmental factors – continue to negatively impact our overall health. With increased numbers of people living in the Lehigh Valley and an aging population, improving the overall health of the Lehigh Valley relies on both individual behavior change and proactive improvement on structural forces such as educational opportunity, environmental health and employment that affect health.

The members of the HCC include: Allentown Health Bureau, Bethlehem Health Bureau, Good Shepherd Rehabilitation Network, KidsPeace Mental Health Network of the Lehigh Valley, Lehigh Valley Health Network, Neighborhood Health Centers of the Lehigh Valley, The Dorothy Rider Pool Health Care Trust, Sacred Heart Hospital and HealthCare System, and St. Luke’s University Hospital.

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