The Norman Transcript

March 25, 2013

Oklahoma health rankings improving

By Joy Hampton
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — It’s a bad news, good news scenario. The good news is a recent study ranks Cleveland County as one of the healthiest in Oklahoma. The bad news is Oklahoma remains at the bottom of the list for health nationally.

But wait — there is more good news. Oklahomans are improving their health. States that showed the most substantial improvement in national rankings this year include New Jersey, which jumped nine slots upward; Maryland, which improved by five slots; and Alabama, Colorado, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Rhode Island, all of which improved by three slots, according to The United Health Foundation’s “2012 America’s Health Ranking.”

Nationally, the five least healthy states are South Carolina, ranked 46, West Virginia, 47, Arkansas, 48, and Mississippi and Louisiana, tied at 49.

Statewide, Cleveland County’s health outlook is one of the best. According to a study by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute’s recent publication “County Health Rankings 2013,” Cleveland County is ranked No. 1 in health factors. The county is ranked No. 2 behind Kingfisher County for health outcomes such as mortality, physical health and birth weight.

“One thing that might have contributed is people are more in tune with what they’re eating, like farm to table and eating organically grown food,” County Commissioner Rod Cleveland said.

As people learn more and become more conscious, the culture of health changes, Cleveland said.

He said his wife sells Arbonne International vegan products and talks about health issues with people in the community. Christine Cleveland said she has noticed an increased interest in health.

“People are more conscious,” Rod Cleveland said. “I’ve also talked to Mark Floyd at Downtown Fitness. They’re busier and I guess business is one of the best it’s been.”

Health behaviors: Health behaviors measured in the ranking include tobacco use, diet and exercise, alcohol use and sexually related health issues. Those behaviors are important health determinants, which is why the Cleveland County Health Department initiated a Countywide Health Improvement Plan last year addressing tobacco prevention, obesity reduction and child health.

The Cleveland County Health Department partnered with the Tobacco Free Cleveland County Coalition to address tobacco-use prevention.

To fight obesity, the county health department works with the Nutrition and Fitness Coalition.

“In Cleveland County we’re very proactive in reducing smoking,” County Commissioner Rusty Sullivan said. “Being smoke-free has really helped the county. The no smoking is something the health department has really worked on.”

Cleveland said he would like to see more emphasis on physical education in schools. He said the county supports pending state legislation to fund health and wellness programs for county employees.

Clinical care: Access to quality hospital and clinical care are also key health indicators. Factors measured to determine the county’s health in these areas looked at preventable hospital stays and diabetic and mammography screenings.

The number of uninsured in a county and the number of people with primary care physicians and dentists also are part of the health measurement.

Health care interacts with behavior to impact the overall health of county residents. The Norman Regional Health Care System, with branches in Norman and Moore as well as other expanding health care facilities, means accessible care for many county residents.

The county health department and the availability of quality health care through local doctors and clinics also makes a big difference in overall health and access to treatment and care.

Local measurements are commensurate with the study’s findings that put Cleveland County at the top of the list for low mortality.

Last month, Dr. Darrin Smith reported a drop in the mortality rate at the Norman Regional Health System compared to 2011. The hospital tracks deaths from heart failure, heart attack and pneumonia.

As the availability of health care increases, so does the overall health of the community. Insurance options and health care for the impoverished are also important elements to a county’s overall health portrait, according to the study.

“We have access to health care where some of the more rural counties don’t,” Sullivan said. “The dental is also available. Awareness is important, and I think the schools do a good job of promoting health.”

Social and economic factors: Education, employment, income, family/social support and community safety play an important role in overall health of the population, say the authors of the county health study.

Living in a university community like Norman helps boost education and employment numbers. Employment opportunities in Norman help the county, and employed people are more likely to have health insurance.

“We don’t recruit any companies that don’t offer health benefits, and that has been from Day 1, so that raises the bar for everybody,” said Don Wood, Norman Economic Development Coalition executive director. “Our unemployment rate right now is about 3.6, which is about what we’ve been historically. Right now, our work force is growing about as fast as the jobs are created.”

The 2010 census puts the median household income of Cleveland County residents at $52,688 — slightly above the national average in 2010 of $49,445. 

Approximately 12 percent of Cleveland County residents live in poverty. Providing means and access to health care and groceries to those residents improves overall health ratings.

More of the aspects measured in the study are community safety and the crime rate.

“We have community effort, and our community effort has really helped us stay on top of our crime rate,” Norman Police Chief Keith Humphrey said. “We’ve been pretty steady with our crime rate and haven’t seen an increase. For cities our size, we have a pretty good average.”

Civic involvement such as the Citizens Police Academy and Citizen’s Watch groups have helped keep residents involved and crime down.

“We have a history of keeping our violent crime rate low,” Humphrey said. “We have a history of people calling and reporting things. Our partnership with our community has really helped.“

Physical environment: Environmental quality factors such as drinking water safety and the built environment are other factors measured by the University of Wisconsin in looking at overall county health.

Norman monitors its water closely to keep it safe.

“We take pride in our water safety for our customers,” Norman Utilities Director Ken Komiske said. “Once a year, we send out a consumer confidence report to show everything we test for in our water system.”

Komiske said other water producers in the county are autonomous, but in Norman, at least, water quality is top priority.

“We always have stayed within federal regulations and our crews are very conscientious when they repair water line breaks, not to get contamination in there,” Komiske said. “Here in Norman, we have a good, safe water supply, but it’s a constant vigilance to make sure it stays that way.”

Access to healthy foods means residents have the opportunity to make healthier choices.

While the number of health food grocers is expanding in Norman, access to any grocery store may be limited in some less healthy counties. Some Oklahoma counties could be classified as “food deserts,” meaning that at least 25 percent of the population lives 10 miles or more from a supermarket or supercenter.

Slaughterville is one of the more rural communities, but access to health care and food is not a problem, said state Rep. Bobby Cleveland, who was formerly Slaughterville mayor.

“Just about everybody I know has a fresh garden, but Slaughterville is not that far from grocery stores in Noble and Norman,” Cleveland said. “In Noble, you have three doctors also, so you’re within 15 minutes to doctors and a grocery store.”

As the area develops, more options are becoming available for rural residents who may not have transportation.

“One thing that we do have in Slaughterville now is a Dollar Store and they do have a pretty good choice of groceries,” Cleveland said. “When you live in rural areas, you’re healthier. The eggs and milk are fresh.”

Studies like these provide key indicators to help city, county and state leadership target areas of needed improvement for better health of residents in those areas.

The “2013 County Health Rankings” produced by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute came out last week. This is the fourth year of the county rankings.

The United Health Foundation’s “2012 America’s Health Rankings” came out in December. First published in 1990, the “America’s Health Rankings” is the longest-running state-by-state analysis of the nation’s health.

Joy Hampton



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