Levy residents improve, but health issues linger

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By Lou Elliott Jones

Christmas is over and normally folks turn their attention to those New Year’s resolutions — promises to ourselves to lose weight, eat healthier, consume less alcohol and stop smoking, dippin’ and chewin’.

The promises we seem to break within days. 

But some of Levy County’s residents are keeping those promises made to themselves. 

Swain Strickland, in a report from the Levy County Healthcare Advisory Board on the health of county residents noted that the county has moved up in state rankings from 65th out of the state’s 67 counties in 2010 to 57th place this year. 

While it sounds like good news, Strickland said, “Some of these rankings are biased because we are a rural county.”

Among the highlights of Strickland’s report on Levy County residents:

• 25.9 percent do not have any health insurance,

• 31.6 percent could not see a dentist due to the cost,

• 34 percent are obese, and 

• 33 percent are inactive.

Strickland told the commissioners that the statistics also have a financial side to them:

• $3 million of General Fund money goes to health related spending,

• $7.8 million in additional health expenditures goes to emergency medical services ($4,966,488) and county employee health insurance (2,870,575) for:

• a total of $10,842,304 in health expenditures from a $61.235,783 in the General Fund.  

“That’s 17.7 percent of the budget that is related to health,” Strickland said. “It’s bigger than we realize.”

Strickland said the  healthcare advisory board has done a local public health system assessment, a community themes and strengths assessment, a forces of change assessment and this report. 

The priorities selected by the board are:

• provide uniform access to healthcare services with the county,

• mobilize partners to impact chronic disease rates,

• make community health a priority, and leverage the county’s environmental strengths and natural resources to improve community health.

Strickland cited the progress being made by several groups including the Levy Prevention Coalition which works to prevent risky behaviors before they start, the Levy Coalition Against Tobacco which works with smokers and dippers to help them quit; and a new pediatric dental clinic opened by the health department. 

Earlier this year, in a report released by the University of Wisconsin under a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation grant the health of Florida’s counties was ranked. 

Among the health factors cited in the report on Levy County:

 • 24 percent said they were in poor or fair health, compared to 15 percent for the state. It was one of several morbidity factors that led to the county being ranked 61 out of 67 counties for morbidity. 

 • 23 percent of adults smoke compared to 19 percent for Florida and 14 percent nationally; and 15 percent engage in excessive drinking compared to 16 percent for Florida and 8 percent nationally. 

• The motor vehicle death rate is 40 per 100,000 population (Levy County’s population is 40,801) compared to 19 per 100,000 for Florida and 12 per 100,000 for the nation. 

• Teen pregnancy rate for girls age 15-19 is 58 per 1,000 population, while Florida is 44 per 1,000 and the nation is 22 per 1,000. 

One reason the advisory board might want to provide better access to health care and perhaps this is a statistic that shows a “rural bias,” is that Levy has 1 primary care physician per 5,600 residents while Florida has 1 per 1,227 and the nation has 1 per 631.

When it comes to mammography screenings for those on Medicare, the county’s rate is just 58 percent, compared to 71 percent for Florida ad 74 percent for the nation. 

Social factors that could influence the health outcomes found in the University of Wisconsin study are that 42 percent of the county’s children live in poverty, 37 percent of children live in single parent households and there are 679 incidents of violent crime per 100,000 population. 

In contrast only 24 of the state’s children and 13 percent of the nation’s children live in poverty; while 36 percent of the state’s children live in single parent households and 20 percent nationally. 

As for violent crime, the rate is 674 per 100,000 for Florida and 73 per 100,000 nationally. 

On a last note, the Wisconsin study noted that 43 percent of the restaurants in the county are fast food restaurants. The state’s rate is 45 percent and 25 percent for the nation. 

The good news in the Wisconsin report is that the county does not have air pollution and ozone days.