Report emphasizes the need to invest in public health, officials say

Nevada health officials say a report released Tuesday ranking counties in the state on health outcomes and factors emphasizes the need to invest in public health, especially in rural areas.

Representatives of health organizations and government agencies across the state attended a review at the Southern Nevada Health District’s headquarters Wednesday regarding the County Health Rankings study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The event was held in conjunction with a meeting at the Washoe County Health District in Reno.

The rankings, released late Tuesday, listed Douglas County as the highest-performing Nevada county in terms of health factors and health outcomes, while Mineral County came in last on both lists.

The health outcomes list ranks counties based on length and quality of residents’ life. The health factors ranking takes social and economic factors, physical environment, clinical care and health behaviors into account.

Clark County ranked sixth on the health outcomes list and ranked 12th in health factors.

The county’s rankings and health statistics are unsurprising considering the state of public health funding statewide, Southern Nevada Health District Chief Health Officer Joseph Iser argued.

“We don’t put enough money into health care, and we don’t put virtually any money into public health,” he said.

Overall, Nevada had numbers above the U.S. median in categories such as reported violent crime offenses and newly diagnosed chlamydia cases per 100,000 members of the population.

Iser said the rankings let the health district assess how it’s performing and what health issues it should focus on in the future.

“If you know that you want health to improve, you have to know where you start and where you want to be,” he said.

Iser said he feels obliged to ensure that Nevada’s rural counties aren’t left out as larger counties try to improve public health in their areas.

“Whatever improves local public health improves all of us,” he said.

Many of the attendees at the meetings in Northern and Southern Nevada represented rural areas.

Laura Oslund, deputy director of nonprofit community health organization PACE Coalition, said health issues in low-ranking counties go beyond health care professional shortages and extend to seemingly unrelated issues like a lack of full-service grocery stores.

She said the rankings for the areas she serves — Elko County, White Pine County and Eureka County — were disheartening but not surprising.

“This allows us to delve down and find out why it is, so it’s going to be easier to work on the issues that create the problems,” she said.

Contact Pashtana Usufzy at pusufzy@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4563. Follow @Pashtana_U on Twitter.

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