HANCOCK COUNTY — Hancock County has been named one of the top 10 healthiest counties in the state for the second year in a row thanks in part to its low rates of smoking and hospital stays.
The County Health Rankings and Roadmaps project measures communities’ overall health through tracking data concerning premature deaths, obesity rates and access to fitness opportunities, among other statistics.
Each year, Indiana counties are ranked 1-92 in two overall categories: health outcomes and health factors. Hancock County ranks seventh overall on the health outcomes list, which focuses on how long people live and how healthy they feel. The county placed fifth last year but 26th the year before in the health outcomes category.
In the health factors category, which measures things that influence community health, like clinical care, environmental factors and individual health choices including drinking and smoking, Hancock County placed sixth for the third year running.
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Hamilton County is ranked healthiest in the state in both categories. For a second year, Scott County in southern Indiana ranks last in health outcomes, while Marion County ranks last in health factors.
Avoiding hospital stays
Area health officials say efforts to make the public more aware of local health resources available has helped to bolster its ranking in the preventable hospital stays category. The 2017 report, which measures data mostly from 2015, shows Hancock County had about 36 people per 1,000 residents whose hospital stay could have been avoided with preventive care; the state’s rate is 57 people per 1,000 residents.
Connecting people with the solutions for their health problems helps keep them out of the hospital, said Amanda Everidge, Hancock Regional Hospital system of care coordinator and program director of Healthy 365.
To that end, Healthy 365 this year arranged a Biggest Loser-style weight loss competition among area businesses called “Healthy Weigh,” in which employees take on weekly exercise and nutrition challenges and have the opportunity to use equipment and classes at the Hancock Wellness Centers in Greenfield and McCordsville.
Everidge said while she’s pleased to see Hancock County continue to break the top 10 healthiest counties, she hopes to see its score continue to rise.
“It would be wonderful if Hancock County was the healthiest county in Indiana,” she said. “We want to create initiatives to make healthy choices easier for county residents and be sure those choices are more accessible.”
Kicking the habit
Since the county ranking program’s inception in 2011, Hancock County has fared better than the state average in the number of adult smokers, which contributes to its high health factors ranking.
And that number of smokers continues to decrease, with Hancock County’s rate of adults who smoke dropping three percentage points compared with the previous year’s data.
The county has programs in place to prevent citizens from picking up the habit as well as for helping current smokers quit, said Brandee Bastin, the hospital’s tobacco initiatives coordinator.
This year, a new program called Quit for Life works with employers to encourage their employees to quit by promoting the use of insurance coverage to take cessation classes or work with healthcare providers to quit using tobacco, Bastin said.
Patients in most units of the hospital and Hancock Health immediate care offices are asked two questions related to tobacco use, she said — “Are you using tobacco?” and “Are you interested in quitting?” — and soon, those departments will be able to connect tobacco users to resources for quitting even more quickly through an electronic referral system throughout Hancock Health, Bastin said.
Local initiatives are making a difference, Bastin said.
“When the community works together, that’s what we start to see happen,” she said. “…We’re one of the healthiest counties in the state, and that’s something we’re very proud of.”
Keeping children safe
That spirit of collaboration to solve community issues has led to Hancock County’s rating of children in poverty being significantly lower than the state average, officials said. According to this year’s County Health Rankings and Roadmaps study, about 8 percent of Hancock County children live in poverty, compared with about 20 percent statewide.
United Way of Central Indiana works with organizations that directly serve people facing poverty and hunger through a group called the Hunger Coalition, which convenes periodically to identify gaps in service to Hancock County residents and determine how to close those gaps, said area director Paula Jarrett.
One program created out of that Hunger Coalition’s work is a summer meals program for students at Greenfield-Central schools who receive free and reduced lunches during the school year, Jarrett said.
“One of the key components to helping families thrive is a strong network of human service organizations, and we have that in this county,” Jarrett said. “It’s not perfect, but there are many many people who are working to make it better. Otherwise those numbers would not be going in the right direction.”