Butler County not among state’s healthiest: Here’s why

8:00 a.m. Saturday, April 1, 2017 Butler County

Butler County dipped slightly in the County Health Rankings released last week, mostly because of upticks to drug overdoses, adult obesity and adult smoking.

The county dropped four spots from last year to 48 out of 88 counties in the state, according to a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The county, which ranked as high as 36 in 2014’s results, has slipped because of a variety of factors, including mainly accidental drug overdose deaths, which have been tied to the rampant heroin and opioid drug epidemic sweeping Ohio and much of the rest of the nation.

44: Butler County’s ranking among Ohio’s 88 counties for health outcomes in 2016

48: Butler County’s ranking among Ohio’s 88 counties for health outcomes this year

1: Delaware Couny’s ranking among Ohio’s 88 counties for health outcomes this year

88: Pike County’s ranking among Ohio’s 88 counties for health outcomes this year

The mortality rate from accidental drug overdose deaths in Butler County jumped to 43 out of every 100,000 residents in 2016, compared to 34 out of every 100,000 residents the year before, according to the report. Ohio last year was just 24 per every 100,000 residents and top U.S. performers at 9 per every 100,000 residents.

A total of 192 people died from overdoses last year, but Martin Schneider, administrator for the Butler County Coroner’s Office said it isn’t only young people who are dying.

“We predominantly see folks who are in their mid to late 30s who are the largest group,” Schneider said. “The youngest age we had (for 2016) was 20 and … a whole bunch of folks in their 30s and 40s, all the way up to our oldest being 67.”

When it comes to drug prevention, Schneider said there’s no easy answers to offer children and adults to stave off this growing epidemic.

“Just don’t start it,” he said. “If you don’t start it, you don’t go down that road. It’s a complicated issue and it’s not something that’s easily solved. If it were, we certainly wouldn’t be wrestling with the problems we’re (having) right now.”

A major contributor to a slide in the rankings was the share of adult obesity, which increased to 33 percent from 30 percent last year.

Jennifer Bailer, recently named health commissioner for the Butler County Health Dept., said she plans to work with lawmakers, faith-based groups and other agencies to help combat these problems.

It will take a team effort to combat the problems listed in the report according to Bailer.

“The health department can’t solve problems on its own. Working with community partners is key,” she explained.

In Butler County, some areas stayed relatively unchanged compared to the prior year — including the adult smoking rate, which dropped slightly to 19 percent from 20 percent last year compared to 25 percent in 2011. Physical inactivity, alcohol related driving deaths, violent crime, and sexually transmitted infections also didn’t fluctuate too much either way.

Peggy Vazquez, director of Quality Operations for Primary Health Solutions, which has four locations in Butler County, including two school-based centers in Fairfield and Hamilton, said the drop in health ranking is disappointing, but there has been some improvement noted at the six centers her agency oversees.

Vazquez added that working to improve the overall health rankings in the county revolves around preventative care.

“I know that are ranking is kind of low, but we are seeing a lot of improvement because we are really pushing for preventative care to address the issues mentioned in the report - especially now that we have the school-based health care centers – we are really trying to get to that younger generation,” she said. “We provide them dental care, vision and well checks to get them to understand the importance of preventative care.”

Drug overdoses, nutrition, obesity, and smoking and mental health are also topics that Vazquez said should be addressed starting with the younger generation.

“We do child and adolescent weight screening to help combat obesity problems and looking at nutrition problems with younger youth so we have seen an significant increase in improvement with those issues,” she said. “We are trying to catch them right away with screening for drugs, alcohol and depression. We are hoping to catch these problems at an early age.”

Many in the community let their health take a back seat because of financial issues and don’t seek dental and regular exams, according to Ronda Croucher of Primary Health Solutions.

“Some people don’t come in until they are at death’s door,” she said. “With the expansion of Medicaid more people now are coming in quicker now than they were three years ago.”

Peggy Vazquez, director of Quality Operations for Primary Health Solutions, which has four locations in Butler County, including two school-based centers in Fairfield and in Hamilton, said the drop in health ranking is disappointing, but there has been some improvement noted at the six centers her agency oversees.

Vazquez added that working to improve the overall health rankings in the county revolves around preventative care.

“I know that are ranking is kind of low, but we are seeing a lot of improvement because we are really pushing for preventative care to address the issues mentioned in the report — especially now that we have the school-based health care centers — we are really trying to get to that younger generation,” she said. “We provide them dental care, vision and well checks to get them to understand the importance of preventative care.”

A beacon of hope for the county is the amount of access to exercise opporunities, now at 91 percent and in step with top U.S. performers and ahead of the state by eight percentage points.

It’s also a source of optimism that the county has more health system options than ever before, with Mercy Health, Cincinnati Children’s, Christ Hospital Health Network, Kettering Health, UC Health and Premier Health all making marked improvements and expansions throughout Butler County, including Fairfield, Liberty Twp., Hamilton, West Chester Twp. and Middletown.

Those health options continue to grow.

Christ Hospital Medical Center-Liberty Twp. is set for a 2017-2018 opening just off Cox Road and Liberty Way, Premier Health Atrium Medical Center’s planned 12,000-square-foot health center is coming to Cincinnati-Dayton Road in Liberty Twp. and a planned TriHealth ambulatory care center is planned for Cox Road in Liberty Twp.

Hospital systems are also doing their share to take part regularly in community health needs assessments to help them identify priority healthcare needs in the region served by the hospital, including Mercy Health-Fairfield Hospital.

“Among the priorities identified in our most recent assessment are smoking cessation, lung cancer and infant mortality,” said Nanette Bentley, spokeswoman for the health systen. “In response, Fairfield Hospital has in place or is introducing programs and partnerships that enhance the accessibility and coordination of primary and preventive health services”

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