Metro-East News

Monroe County is healthiest county in Illinois; St. Clair County ranks low

St. Clair County ranks low in overall health in Illinois counties

Mark Peters, director of community health for St. Clair County Health Department, explains why the southern Illinois county ranks 95th out of 102 counties in Illinois on health outcomes, according to the 2017 national health rankings.
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Mark Peters, director of community health for St. Clair County Health Department, explains why the southern Illinois county ranks 95th out of 102 counties in Illinois on health outcomes, according to the 2017 national health rankings.

When it comes to overall health, only seven counties in Illinois rank worse than St. Clair County. However, neighboring Monroe County ranks the best in the state in regards to health outcomes.

St. Clair County is ranked 95th out of 102 Illinois counties in the 2017 national County Health Rankings released recently.

On health outcomes, Clinton County ranks 7th; Randolph County ranks 52nd; and Madison County ranks 61st.

Bob Elmore, chairman of the Monroe County Board, said the economy in Monroe County is expanding.

“We have a lot of people employed here,” he said. “We have a very low unemployment rate; that helps a lot.”

Monroe County Health Department Administrator John Wagner could not immediately be reached for comment.

Cheryl Lee, administrator at Clinton County Health Department, attributed the county’s overall health ranking in part to the formation of the Clinton Health Improvement Coalition in partnership with St. Joseph’s Hospital in Breese.

“We have a very strong community coalition” that focuses on outreach, education and networking, Lee said. “We are looking to do a lot more with walking fitness, accessibility and community gardens.”

Clinton County Health Department has been working with a community health coach through the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Lee said the coach meets via virtual conference with members of the coalition’s executive board for 90 minutes once a month.

“It really helps us establish our goals and keeps us more focused,” Lee said of the health coach.

The county health rankings incorporate a variety of factors, some of which are out of the control of the local county health department, according to Lee.

Mark Peters, director of community health for St. Clair County Health Department, concurs with Lee.

“When you look at the things that drive the health of our population or any population, roughly 20 percent of it is specific to clinical care, to healthcare,” Peters said. “The other 80 percent has to do with economic, social, environmental and behavioral issues.”

The rankings compare counties on 60 factors that influence health, including education, housing, violent crime, jobs, diet and exercise, adult obesity, smoking, children in poverty, teen-age birth rates, alcohol use, sexually transmitted diseases and air pollution.

The 2016 rankings for metro-east counties were as follows: St. Clair, 93rd; Monroe, 3rd; Clinton, 12th; Madison, 60th; and Randolph, 65th.

Peters said he wasn’t surprised by St. Clair County’s low ranking this year since the health department receives health-related data in advance.

“We were anticipating we wouldn’t show any market improvements on this year’s rankings,” Peters said.

The rankings are based on health-related data collected by the federal government. The most recent national data available is from 2014, according to Peters.

In 2014, St. Clair County had a high infant-mortality rate. The number of infants who died before they hit age 1 was 41 in 2014, Peters said.

“When you look at the data, a lot of deaths seem to be the result of sudden infant death syndrome,” he said, “or just infants that were not sleeping properly. There was evidence that they might have been sleeping improperly. Those are the types of things that just horrify us, because they are just so preventable.”

One thing that might help is getting cribs to those families, according to Peters, which is something the Infant Mortality Reduction Initiative is working toward. The initiative includes St. Clair County Health Department, East Side Health District, Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation, St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and Memorial Hospital.

This year the rankings took a closer look at premature deaths — or deaths that occur among people under age 75. According to the Rankings Key Findings Report, drug overdose deaths are causing a sharp increase in premature deaths nationally due to an increase in deaths among 15- to 44-year-olds.

St. Clair County has a high number of premature deaths at 3,564, according to the 2017 county health rankings. Violent deaths and injury-related deaths such as in motor-vehicle crashes are factors contributing to the number of premature deaths in St. Clair County, Peters said.

Another factor contributing to St. Clair County’s low health ranking, Peters said, is the “extremely-high” ratio of medical professionals like primary-care doctors, dentists and mental-health providers to county residents.

“We have fewer doctors per person in this county than many of the other counties,” he said.

When you look at the things that drive the health of our population or any population, roughly 20 percent of it is specific to clinical care, to healthcare. The other 80 percent has to do with economic, social, environmental and behavioral issues.

Mark Peters, director of community health for the with St. Clair County Health Department

Peters said parts of St. Clair County are registered as “medically-professional shortage areas.” The ratio of primary-care doctors to residents is 1,710 to 1; the ratio of dentists is 1,460 to 1; and medical-health professionals is 1,210 to 1.

The County Health Rankings is a collaborative report produced annually by the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The rankings let people compare the overall health of their county with the health of the rest of the counties in their state.

The rankings are available online at www.countyhealthrankings.org.

Jamie Forsythe: 618-239-2562, @BND_JForsythe

Overall county health

St. Clair County

Madison County

Monroe County

Clinton County

Randolph County

Premature deaths

3,564

3,496

273

372

468

Adult obesity

33 percent

32 percent

33 percent

30 percent

28 percent

Teen births

42

33

12

21

41

Uninsured

9 percent

8 percent

6 percent

8 percent

8 percent

Children in poverty

26 percent

18 percent

6 percent

12 percent

20 percent

Violent crimes

749

218

42

157

116

Source: County Health Rankings and Roadmaps

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