Garfield County has joined the ranks of Utah’s healthiest counties — a distinction that may show how modest improvements to medical resources can make a difference in the health of rural Utahns.
Despite being one of Utah’s most remote counties, with the second-highest unemployment rate, third-lowest median household income and relatively low access to doctors, Garfield cracked the top five counties in Utah for health outcomes, bonking Davis and Summit counties farther down the list in the fifth annual County Health Rankings by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), a Princeton, N.J.-based health care nonprofit, and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
Top 5 counties
Source: Health Outcomes report
In the "Health Outcomes" report, which measures rates of early death and illness, Garfield over the years has swung through the ranks from No. 20 to No. 5 in the state, with a notable improvement in this year’s ranking for low prevalence of non-fatal health problems.
That ranking includes data from 2006 to 2012, when Garfield County residents reported lower incidence of poor general health and fewer sick days relative to other counties and relative to previous reports.
While small counties like Garfield are more likely to produce statistical anomalies, the updated timeframe may capture the benefits of some small but important health resources, noted Dave Heaton, spokesman for the Southwest Utah Public Health Department. In the past few years, the health department has pushed more aggressively for widespread flu shots.
"Garfield County especially made it kind of a community thing," Heaton said; local emergency services join in and flu shot clinics get extensive promotion not only by the health department but by other agencies within in the county. That has driven a bigger response, per capita, than in counties where the health department alone runs the clinics, Heaton said. The cost advantage of public flu shot clinics also may create a bigger impact among poorer Utahns, suggested Garfield County Commissioner Leland Pollock.
"In a rural area, where income levels are so dramatically low, that’s a big help," Leland said.
As flu shots have become more normalized, clinics also have been built or rebuilt since 2006 in Escalante, Panguitch and Cannonville, Pollock said.
The County Health Rankings also lists counties according to "health factors" — public health predictors such as smoking, obesity, poverty and health resources — without consideration for health outcomes. In that ranking, Garfield County has risen from the bottom to the middle of the pack in the past five years, pulled down largely by socioeconomic variables.
Apart from Garfield County, the same counties typically dominate each list from year to year.
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