Shawnee Co. ranks high in access to healthcare, low in overall health

Shawnee County has great access to medical care, but falls short when it comes to the overall health of its residents, according to the results of the 2014 County Health Rankings.

With a young daughter and a baby on the way, Sheena Christopher has health on the mind.
“I want her to be healthy when she grows up and to know that for her kids someday,” she says.

But it might not be on everyone’s mind in Shawnee County. While it ranked 5th out of 98 counties for access to health care, it ranked 66th for overall health of its residents.

“We’re very, very pleased to see that we’re ranking so high in clinical care aspects of the report but obviously we still have some work to do as it relates to some of the social and economic factors,” says Allison Alejos with the Shawnee County Health Agency.

Some of those factors include things like education, poverty, housing and transportation.

“Things that are not directly health related issues but can affect how healthy individuals are,” says Dr. Gianfranco Pezzino with the Kansas Health Institute.

The Shawnee County Health Agency knows its trouble areas.

“Obesity is a problem, I think we also realize that we do have some poverty and some education concerns, we’re not seeing high school graduation rates at the rate we would like them to be, we’ve got lots of smokers,” says Alejos.

They’re working to change that – Heartland Healthy Neighborhoods is a group of 80 organizations with a community health improvement plan in the works.

While it may take many years before significant change, these rankings spark the discussion.

“As policy makers, when we make decisions that affect the economy and the education of our communities, we need to be aware of the fact that we are also affecting the health of our communities,” Dr. Pezzino says.

The top healthiest counties ranked this year in order are Johnson, Riley, Pottawatomie, Wabaunsee and Stevens. The Riley County Health Department says it ranked high in the physical environment category, which looks at air pollution, drinking water violations and commuting. The Wabaunsee County Health Department believes it ranked high because of its fresh air and places to walk.

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