Santa Cruz County 13th Healthiest in State

Santa Cruz County 13th healthiest in the state, down from 10th a year ago
By Jondi Gumz
Posted:   03/20/2013 05:32:31 PM PDT

SANTA CRUZ -- Santa Cruz County slipped again this year, ranking the 13th healthiest county in California after being 10th last year and seventh the previous year.

The fourth annual county health rankings, issued Wednesday, are based on data collected nationally and analyzed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. One rank is for health outcomes, the other for health factors.

"We can compare and see how we're doing compared to others in the state," said Dr. Lisa Hernandez, who started work Feb. 4 as the Santa Cruz County health officer. "Health factors are where we can influence the numbers."

She described Santa Cruz as static while other counties were "able to move the needle better."

Marin was the healthiest county in California for the fourth straight year. Placer moved up to seconnd, Yolo fifth and El Dorado sixth.

San Luis Obispo, Colusa and Sonoma jumped ahead of Santa Cruz.

Outcome rankings are based equally on mortality and morbidity statistics.

Santa Cruz saw fewer deaths of people under age 75 but did not improve in measures of morbidity, such as premature babies weighing less than 5½ pounds. People reported more poor mental health days and poor physical health days in last year's phone survey, which for the first time included those with cellphones.

Health factors give the most weight, 40 percent, to social and economic factors such as violent crime and unemployment, 30 percent to behaviors such as smoking and teen birth rate, 20 percent to clinical care such as primary care physicians and diabetic screenings, and 10 percent to physical environment, such as access to recreational facilities.

Santa Cruz had a lower rate of teen births, fatal car crashes and unemployment, but a higher rate of sexually transmitted infections including chlamydia and HIV.

There are fewer primary care physicians, with a rate of one per 1,047 people vs. 923 a year ago. A county report this year said 4.5 more primary care doctors are needed.

Hernandez presented the rankings report to 25 community leaders at a breakfast Wednesday at Chaminade sponsored by United Way of Santa Cruz County with funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Hernandez said chlamydia is up for 15- to 24-year-olds and noted federal health officials have a campaign aimed at young people called "Get Yourself Tested" because sexually transmitted diseases often have no symptoms.

"Social isolation is one of the drivers of poor mental health," said Mary Lou Goeke of United Way, who sees faith communities, family resource centers and neighbors playing a part.

She said Positive Parenting Program classes, sponsored by First 5 Santa Cruz County, help parents under stress and build healthier families.

Hernandez said the county is changing the way mental health services are provided, with behavioral health practitioners offering office hours at primary care clinics to be more convenient for patients, such as someone with diabetes and depression.

The statistic on violent crime was based on 2010 FBI data because 2011 data was not posted in time.

Goeke said she learned Wednesday about miscoding that boosted violent crime numbers in Capitola and is being corrected. She also cited a task force to prevent juvenile violence, formed last year, working on a five-year action plan.

"If people feel safer, they will feel safe riding bikes and being in parks," she said.

Dominican Hospital eliminated "early elective deliveries" of babies last year but that was not reflected in the low birth-weight statistic, which came from a national 2010 database.

The county is working with health care providers to educate pregnant women about nutrition.