Report shows county health declines

Published 10:09 am Friday, May 6, 2022

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The 2022 County Health Rankings data published last week by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute shows communities in the Piedmont Health District to have high percentages of children living in poverty.

The rankings show that 28% of children in Prince Edward live in poverty, 26% in Charlotte, 23% in Lunenburg, 22% in Buckingham and Cumberland, and 12% in Amelia.

This places Prince Edward and Charlotte in the bottom 20 counties/cities.

The report ranks localities in Virginia by health outcomes and the underlying factors that influence health.

According to the report, Falls Church city ranks as the healthiest locality in Virginia and Petersburg city ranks as the least.

The 2022 rankings added new measures to include the cost of living, cost of child care, COVID-19 deaths, and pay gaps in wages.

“The 2022 County Health Rankings show that in half of our counties within the Piedmont district, there has been a decline in our health and well-being from 2019 to 2022,” said Piedmont Health District Director Dr. Maria Almond. “What is most notable, though, is that across the district, some of the basic factors that contribute to poor health remain devastatingly unchanged. We continue to have some of the largest percentages of children living in poverty in the state and post some of the lowest birthweights in Virginia.”

According to Almond, four counties within the Piedmont showed a decline in ranking from 2019 to 2022, with notable decreases in rankings for Amelia (60 –>87) and Cumberland (73–> 80). Other counties that saw a decrease in rankings were Charlotte and Lunenburg.

“We are just beginning to gain a fuller understanding of the impact that COVID-19 has had on our health and well-being due to isolation, economic hardship, delays in accessing care, or simply putting off necessary health screenings,” Almond said. “These are on top of the grief and loss experienced for individuals and many families struck hard by COVID-19 in the past two years.”

The new COVID-19 health measure included in the report shows COVID-19 deaths in 2020.

“The results of the study make it clear that health disparities and inequities occur, not only between regions of the Commonwealth but also within localities, even the wealthy ones,” said State Health Commissioner Colin M. Greene, M.D., MPH. “While the change in health-influencing factors takes time, the Virginia Department of Health is committed to supporting its local health departments and focusing on improving the health and well-being of all people in Virginia.

The reports showed Virginia’s rate, 56 deaths per 100,000 people, is lower than the national rate of 85 per 100,000. Only 79% (103) of Virginia’s localities were included in this measure; 26% of them exceeded the national average.

According to a release from the Virginia Department of Health (VDH), an additional measure that is important as Virginia recovers from the pandemic is the average number of “mentally unhealthy days” people reported in the past 30 days. At 4.2 days, Virginia is slightly better than the national average of 4.5 days. Virginia’s counties ranged from 3.3 to 5.8 days.

Mental health outcomes are an essential measure because untreated mental health disorders have a serious impact on physical health and are associated with the prevalence, progression, and outcome of some of today’s most pressing chronic diseases.

“What the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reveal is that our health is a combination of many factors — where we live, how we work and interact with each other, our resources, both economic and social,” Almond said. “This is why it is not only the job of our health providers to keep us healthy. It takes an entire community working together in support of each other. We have seen how we can successfully do this in our district to bring greater health to our community. We have seen how vaccination efforts have been most effective when we all reach out. We have seen incredible tender, loving care for others. COVID will continue to be a challenge. But it is not the only one ahead of us.”