Highland Co. health care lags behind


As part of the Highland County Health Collaborative, the Highland County Health Department, Adena Health System, Highland District Hospital, and other local government, non-profit and private organizations have recently completed a community health assessment to determine local health care priorities.

The study is federally required to be completed every three years.

The study combines information from a community survey, stakeholder interviews, and focus groups with secondary data from statewide and national sources.

“We take all that information and pull that together in a report that provides an assessment of the overall health of the county,” said Highland County Health Commissioner Jared Warner. “We create some actionable steps related to each of those issues that we are going to work on as a community.”

For 2022, the study identified six different health priorities for Highland County: illegal substance abuse; mental health; obesity, physical activity and nutrition; chronic disease, child fatality, and tobacco use.

“For each of those different priorities, we lay out specific, measurable things that we want to address and specific steps we are going to take — not just as a health department but as a community — to try to work on those areas,” said Warner.

Adena Director of Community Health Advancement Kim Jones said the study revealed Highland County ranked 69th out of Ohio’s 88 counties in terms of health outcomes for its citizens. “The average length of life for an Ohioan is 76.5 years, and for someone who lives in Highland County the average length of life is 75.5 years, so it’s a little bit less,” she said.

Jones said that clinical care outcomes in Highland County ranked 85th out of Ohio’s 88 counties. “When you see numbers like that, you want to dig down a little bit deeper and look at other things like the obesity rate; that’s 41 percent for Highland County,” she said. “When you look at it on an Ohio average, it’s about 35 and a half percent, so the obesity rate is higher in Highland County.”

She said the study showed the rates of lung cancer in Highland County are significantly greater than the state and national averages with a 78.6 percent rate of lung cancer deaths in the county. “In Ohio, which nationally ranks a lot higher than other states for it, it’s 66.7 percent,” she said.

Warner said the study also showed a concerning amount of tobacco use among young people. “We still are seeing significant levels of young people using tobacco products, particularly with vaping and e-cigarettes,” he said. “That’s a big concern for us, and we’re working on several different programs to try to address that as well.”

According to Jones, access to health care is a contributing factor to the health care outcomes in the county. She said there is only one primary care provider for every 3,320 people in Highland County and 900 people for every mental health provider.

She said the education level of county residents also factors into overall health outcomes. “There’s lower educational attainment though when you kind of start to peel back that onion and look at some of the social factors,” she said. Jones said less than 14 percent of the population in Highland County has a college degree, and the county has an above average rate of “disconnected youth.”

“When I say disconnected youth, I’m talking about kids that are 16 to 19 years old and they’re not going to school and they’re not working, and that rate in Highland County is about 18 percent of the population,” said Jones.

Both Warner and Jones said they are working within their organizations to address the issues revealed in the study and improve health outcomes for the county.

“It’s an important program for us to make sure we’re being relevant and we’re being engaged with the community and really trying to provide good, strong public health services for Highland County,” said Warner.

Reach John Hackley at 937-402-2571.

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