CONYERS -- A study combining a community's health status with economic vitality to determine it's overall ranking in the state places Rockdale County in the top 25 and Newton County in the top 60 of Georgia's 159 counties.
The Partner Up! for Public Health campaign's 2013 Power Rankings placed Rockdale at 24.5 in the overall rankings, just behind DeKalb with a 24 ranking and just ahead of Camden County with a 25 ranking. Newton ranked 58th, slightly behind Whitfield County and just ahead of Carroll County.
Oconee County claimed first place in the rankings; Crisp and Wilcox counties in South Georgia tied for last.
Partner Up! for Public Health is a project of the Healthcare Georgia Foundation. The study compiles Health and Economic Power Ratings by combining county-level health outcome rankings produced by the University of Wisconsin with economic rankings calculated by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs in connection with the state's job tax credits program.
The University of Wisconsin program provides health outcomes rankings for most of the counties in the U.S. based on a variety of factors, including premature death, the percentage of the population reporting being in poor or fair health, the number of work days missed for reasons of poor mental or physical health, and the percentage of babies born at low birth weight.
DCA job tax credit rankings take into account a community's average per capita income, unemployment rate and poverty rate.
The Public Health Power ratings are determined by averaging the economic ranking and the health outcomes ranking.
According to Charles Hayslett, CEO of Hayslett Group LLC, which is managing the Partner Up! campaign, the purpose of the Power Rankings is to spotlight the connection between health status and economic vitality and to encourage state leaders to develop policies that address those relationships.
"One of the things we came to realize early in this campaign is that the state of Georgia really doesn't seem to have a coordinated strategy for addressing the very difficult challenges facing Georgia's poorest and least healthy counties," said Hayslett. "We've got some areas of rural South Georgia that are for all practical purposes disaster areas both economically and in terms of health status."
Hayslett pointed out that the combined populations of Crisp and Wilcox counties is nearly equal to Oconee's, while Oconee's per capita income is more than double that number in Wilcox and Crisp. In addition, Georgia's 2012 Medicaid spending in Crisp and Wilcox combined was $44.2 million, compared to $11.2 million for Oconee.
"Our argument isn't that we need to cut Medicaid spending in Crisp and Wilcox, but we do think the magnitude and gravity of the economic and health crises in certain parts of rural Georgia are such that we need to break the mold and look for a strategy that addresses those and other issues in combination," said Hayslett. "It seems clear that we are not going to be able to improve the economies of many of these areas without, among other things, improving the health of the populations that reside there, and that will probably require an invigorated and expanded public health effort as well as state-backed efforts to encourage private providers -- physicians and hospitals -- to go into underserved areas."
Healthcare Georgia Foundation is a public health foundation formed as part of the conversion of BlueCross BlueShield of Georgia from nonprofit status to a for-profit status organization. The foundation provides grants to advance the health of all Georgians and to expand access to affordable, quality health care for underserved individuals and communities.