Apr 7 2014
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First Friday Google+ Hangout: How County Health Rankings Can Improve Health

On Friday, April 4, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation held a First Friday Google+ Hangout to explore how the 2014 County Health Rankings can be used to move the needle toward healthy communities. Hosted by Susan Dentzer, RWJF senior policy advisor, the Hangout featured four panelists from various sectors working to improve the health of U.S. communities.

file Marjorie Paloma, RWJF

Marjorie Paloma, Senior Policy Advisor at the Foundation, provided viewers with an overview of the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, explaining that the rankings continue to show that where we live matters to our health. The rankings allow each state to see how counties compare on a number of health factors, including housing, education, income and safety. The Rankings offer a look at health trends across the country in addition to county-level information. This year’s Rankings find that people who live in the least health communities are twice as likely to live shorter lives and that we are slowly seeing an uptick in the number of children living in poverty. However, there have been significant declines in smoking rates and violent crime.

“The Rankings really help us to see how we’re doing and also where we can improve on health,” said Paloma. “The Roadmaps are really a call to action. They are really helping to move communities from awareness to driving action.”

Paloma also highlighted the broad range of resources available through the County Health Rankings website for communities to find and develop health solutions.

file Brian Smedley, Health Policy Inst.

According to Brian Smedley, Vice President and Director, Health Policy Institute, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, the County Health Rankings is critical in understanding the importance of place as an upstream driver of health. Transportation, housing, opportunities for experience, quality of greenspace and more can be critical in determining the health of a community and the individuals who call it home. He explained that successful Roadmaps communities are ones that have built coalitions across different sectors and have health policy strategies that are local.

“We need to look at smaller geographic areas to see how neighborhoods affect health,” said Smedley. “A lens on place can be powerful in helping us to understand how we can reduce risks at the individual level and the community level.” He also offered additional tools for acquiring even finer cuts of data, such as Community Commons, local health departments and the U.S. Census Bureau.

file Mary Lou Goeke, United Way

Mary Lou Goeke, Executive Director, United Way of Santa Cruz County, offered a look at how the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps are used to improve health in Santa Cruz by shining a light on areas that need improvement and mobilizing the community to action. In particular, Goeke highlighted Santa Cruz’s efforts to reconcile a correlation between drinking rates and violent crime with the city’s new entertainment district. By using the data, the community was able to mitigate the potential harm of the entertainment district by implementing evidence-based practices to decrease drinking and crime.

“The County Health Rankings hold us accountable for things that aren’t working and encourages us to find new approaches,” said Goeke.

file Katie Loovis, GlaxoSmithKline

Katie Loovis, Director of U.S. Partnerships and Stakeholder Engagement, GlaxoSmithKline, explained how her company uses the rankings to shape its philanthropic efforts across the country. In the past few years, GlaxoSmithKline employees have overwhelming expressed support for the company to improve health in communities.

“If you want to improve health in your community, you have to know where you’re starting,” said Loovis. “The rankings do just that.” GlaxoSmithKline relies on the roadmaps to help highlight which interventions have the science to back them up and to identify which nonprofits to partner with in their target communities.

In addition, Loovis encourages local health departments and non-profits to reach out to local businesses directly and invite them to get involved in the solutions.

Tags: County Health Rankings, Public health, Public health agencies