Rockdale ranks 16th in health

Photo by WVLT Video

Photo by WVLT Video

CONYERS -- Rockdale County made the top 20 in a report released last week that ranked Georgia's 159 counties by order of health.

Rockdale County took the 16th spot on the list compiled by the University of Wisconsin's Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The organizations ranked the country's more than 3,000 counties, including the District of Columbia, for the second year. The report said it looked at various aspects that affect health, including high school graduation rates, access to healthier foods, air pollution levels, income, rate of smoking, obesity, and teen births. Researchers also looked at four categories that affect people's health: health behaviors, clinical care, physical environment, and social and economic factors.

"It's hard to lead a healthy life if you don't live in a healthy community," Robert Wood Johnson Foundation President/CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey said. "The County Health Rankings are an annual check-up for communities to know how healthy they are and where they can improve. We hope that policymakers, businesses, educators, public health departments and community residents will use the rankings to develop solutions to help people live healthier lives."

Rockdale County Hospital Authority launched a grants program last year with the interest money accrued from the February 2009 sale of Rockdale Medical Center to LifePoint Hospitals. The hospital then set out to see what health issues were unique in Rockdale County through a series of surveys and health data collecting and analysis.

Authority Chairwoman Ethel Boyle said she had not seen the report, but cited the underinsured and the uninsured as a focus for her board when they planned to be a charitable giving organization.

"You have so many people who have so many different needs and they don't have the ability to meet them financially or they have nowhere to go," Boyle said.

The authority just completed its first cycle of grants that awarded money to address a variety of issues, including nutrition, teen pregnancy, the special needs community, the homeless, and people having access to health care.

"I think, as we move forward, we'll be revisiting and widening that focus," Boyle said.

She specifically pointed to teen pregnancies as being a big problem, citing three different grants that involved that issue. She said it needed to be addressed with education and counseling.

By way of good local resources, Boyle said she was "so proud there are a lot of people out there willing to help and give of their time."

"I do think if someone is in need of it, I think there are a lot of places to go to get help," Boyle said. "People have got to make sure they use it."

She pointed to low-cost health clinics, like Helping Hands Outreach and Mercy Heart, that were growing in ability to meet local needs and make a difference in people's lives.

To read the health ranking report, visit www.countyhealthrankings.org.