EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU) – The fifth annual County Health Rankings report came out on Wednesday. It shows Eau Claire County ranked 12th healthiest of the 72 counties in Wisconsin. That’s an improvement from 2013 when it ranked 17th.
La Crosse Co. ranked 19th, Chippewa came at 26th and Dunn ranked 13. The healthiest community at number 1 was Ozaukee County and at 72 was Menominee County.
In a news releases, the Eau Claire City-County Health Dept. said: “The rankings help counties understand what influences how healthy residents are and how long they will live. The Rankings look at a variety of measures that affect health such as the rate of people dying before age 75, high school graduation rates, unemployment, limited access to healthy foods, air pollution levels, income, and rates of smoking, obesity and teen births.”
Eau Claire City-County Health Department director Lieske Giese, RD said, based on these statistics and other reports, the county teams up with the community to create a healthier place for neighbors to live, learn, work and play.
Giese said while it is great being near the top, there's always room for improvement.
“Things like our obesity rate, smoking, and physical inactivity, those things make a difference and we're struggling in those areas,” said Giese.
Eau Claire County ranked in the top third of the state's counties for health behaviors. The data shows almost a third of the adults in the county are obese, almost 1-in-5 are smokers and nearly a quarter said they were physically inactive.
“Also the rankings related to physical environment this year were really significantly worse than we would have expected and impacts our overall ranking. Physical environment looked at everything from air quality to housing and whether or not we have the kind of housing that supports good health,” said Giese.
The data shows 11.6 as the average daily measure of fine particulate matter in micrograms per cubic meter in Eau Claire County. That technically translates to “air pollution.” The County is close to the Wisconsin average at 11.5
It said 15 percent of households in Eau Claire County showed they had at least 1 of 4 housing problems: overcrowding, high housing costs, or lack of kitchen or plumbing facilities.
80 percent of the workforce in the county also reported driving alone to work instead of carpooling or perhaps taking the bus.
Giese said social and economic factors play a great role in determining the health of a county.
Eau Claire County ranked 16 of 72 for social and economic. 5.9 percent of the population age 16+ reported unemployment but seeking work.
18 percent of the children under age 18 are in poverty which is an improvement from last year, said Giese.
17 percent of adults reported they were without social or emotional support in the county.
But for clinical care, only nine counties ranked better. There's a doctor for every 800 people or so. Statewide, it's one doctor for every 1200 people. That means when someone needs to see a doctor, there’s a likelihood a doctor would be available in Eau Claire County, said Giese.
There is also one mental health provider for every 800 people. If you want to see a dentist in Eau Claire County, expect 1 dentist for every 1,200 patients.
As far as preventative care measures like diabetic screening and mammography screening, the county ranked above Wisconsin.
“We have providers that are really paying attention to preventative health and making sure they're not just treating people once their sick, doing things like making sure their patients are getting mammography done making sure that diabetes screening is happening, those are measures in the rankings and we look good there,” said Giese.
Giese said collaboration is key to a healthier community. Last year, Eau Claire Healthy Communities worked on preventive health issues, formed new Action Teams to address chronic disease, alcohol misuse and mental health, she said.
“Each of those teams are working on different things, some of them are working on how can we change policy to make a difference, others like the mental health action team is looking at how can we pay attention to people understanding what providers are available, they're specifically working on a project right now to look at how elder Hmong families can look at mental health treatment as something positive,” said Giese.
Michael Hoadley, director of Community Health Initiative with United Way said dozens of groups are working on issues like mental health, alcohol misuse, domestic violence and chronic disease in Eau Claire and Chippewa counties.
“People get together, they share ideas, expertise, money, we get volunteers to help, we get facilities that get shared and helps reduce overhead costs and all of that really helps. And who benefits? The people out there who really need the programs and services,” said Hoadley.
United Way’s Secretary Jan Porath is the co-chair of Eau Claire Health Communities. The non-profit is also working with dozens of groups in its own Community Health Initiative to make an impact in the counties.
“Some examples we have currently funded are the Wellness Shack is a group that supports and provides programming for mental health services. Domestic violence is one of our areas so Bolton Refuge House would be an example there and some others. For obesity -- they're related to nutrition and physical activity and different age groups so some of the efforts with the Boys and Girls Club or the YMCA,” said Hoadley.
Giese said on May 1st, 2014, Eau Claire Healthy Communities will have a meeting inviting the community to celebrate success and collectively think about how they can partner to make a healthy difference in the community.
“Real people bring not only their personal self to that table but also their connections and resources so whether you're a grandma that comes to the table, you can impact your family and your connections and your peer group that you work with to talk about things like,” said Giese. “It does make a difference in our community that we have places that is safe to exercise for example, and you have a voice in policy decisions about, that you have a voice in telling your family to go out and exercise as well so it can be at all ends of the spectrum,.”