Health officer looks at the statistics

Dr. Tom Locke, Clallam and Jefferson County public health officer, said recent gathered data proves one depressing point: “We are an unhealthy community in an unhealthy nation.”


Locke’s office is working with a coalition of various health resources within the county, including the public hospitals, on a three-year project to improve on that assessment.


In 2011, the coalition conducted a comprehensive health assessment. This year they are examining the data and coming up with a plan. Next year they will implement the plan.


“The ‘why’ of it is the fact that we have so much ground to cover,” Locke said. “We are far from what is realistically attainable.”


And, he added, “We’re a long way from where countries with less resources than us are.”


Locke recently presented his own staff with a summary of statistics. The presentation had a big impact on the staff; it’s eye-opening for all.


Compared to 17 other “high-income countries,” the U.S. ranks highest for adverse birth outcomes; injuries, accidents and homicides; adolescent pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease; drug-related mortality; and obesity and diabetes.


The U.S. is second highest for HIV and AIDS.


Surprisingly, the rates of chronic lung disease are higher in the U.S. than in Europe and Japan, two places where smoking remains much more common than in the U.S.


“It’s not genetic,” Locke said. “It’s something about this country.”


He said the higher stats may be tied to stress, which, he said, “accelerates the progression of disease.”

Americans have high levels of stress, Locke noted, citing job insecurity, health insecurity and other factors.


Clallam counted

Locke further concludes that, “We, the 70,000 residents of Clallam County, are an unhealthy community in an unhealthy nation.”


Newly compiled statistics, released in March by the University of Wisconsin, prove the point. The study, called County Health Rankings and Roadmap, provides a means of comparing Clallam with counties within Washington and across the U.S.


Perhaps the most telling statistic regards “premature death.” Clallam County registers a 7.934 versus 5.709 for the rest of the state. The figure provides a numerical way of comparing the data, but doesn’t correlate exactly to how much longer people would have lived, Locke said. “It’s a complex calculation.”

Locke said Clallam’s poor showing likely is due in large measure to “opiate overdoses.” He said that’s reflected across the peninsula, with all four peninsula counties showing high numbers for premature death. “We’re the highest, but only by a bit.”


Other numbers are equally eye-opening. The “motor vehicle crash death rate” is 16 motor vehicle crash deaths per 100,000 population, compared to a statewide average of 10. Locke said rural areas tend to have higher rates due to more time spent on the road.


Down and down

Other studies have provided a timeline for Clallam’s health. They show, Locke said, “Our health outcomes are declining relative to rest of Washington.”


“Health Outcomes” include statistics on such factors as poor physical health days, poor mental health days, low birthweight and more.


In 2011, Clallam ranked 19th in the state. This year it’s 27th.


“Health Factors” include such data as adult smoking, adult obesity and physical inactivity.


Clallam has dropped from 15th to 21st in the same time period.


Locke said many of the health issues are exacerbated by “a disparity in resources.”


For example, he said, “We have 10,000 people in Clallam without health insurance of any kind.”


That puts the life-saving and life-enhancing treatments “mostly out of their range.”


It also translates into health disparities, Locke said.


He also pointed out that his office doesn’t gather this information simply as an academic exercise.


“The reason we’re doing this is so we can do something about it.”


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