Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Our Weak Health Belies a Hardy Medical System; Duval Has Some of State's Best Care, Least Healthy Populations

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Our Weak Health Belies a Hardy Medical System; Duval Has Some of State's Best Care, Least Healthy Populations

Article excerpt

Byline: JEREMY COX

Despite boasting a strong health-care system, Duval County is one of the least healthy places in Florida, ranking alongside some of its poorest, least-populated locales, a new report shows.

Of the state's 67 counties, Duval offers the sixth-best medical care. But that wasn't enough to overcome bottom-scraping scores in categories that rated residents on their lifestyle choices, well-being and environment.

The final tally ranked Duval as the 44th healthiest county - barely outside the bottom one-third.

And if you think size matters, think again: Duval's population is more than five times the size of the three counties that immediately precede it in the ranking - Highlands, Liberty and Walton.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, a nonpartisan health group, hired the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute to compile the report, which is being released today. In it, researchers rank every county in the United States' health status against its peers statewide, using publicly available reports on topics ranging from binge drinking to hospice use.

"When you put all these data together and create these rankings, you let every person compare the health of their county with other counties in the state, and it helps them see that there are big differences across counties," said Bridget Booske, director of the county health rankings project.

To that end, Duval and St. Johns, its neighbor to the south, don't disappoint. St. Johns was named the second healthiest county, trailing only Collier, a wealthy outpost in the southwest corner of the state.

Booske and other researchers gauged a county's health system by studying residents' access to care and the quality of that care. That meant taking into account estimates of uninsured residents, the number of primary-care doctors, preventable hospital stays, diabetic screenings and hospice usage.

But those factors alone don't tell the whole story, Booske said. For example, the Duval scenario - great health care, poor overall health - was not uncommon across the country, and "it goes to our point that health is not always about health care," she added.

So-called "clinical care" only accounted for 20 percent of a county's health score in the researchers' calculations. And Duval did poorly on the other 80 percent, landing at 35th in health behaviors, 49th in social and economic factors and 46th in physical environment. …

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