County rankings show link between economy, health

Print Friendly and PDF By: Andy Miller Published: Apr 25, 2012

A county-by-county ranking of health statistics, released earlier this month, showed a geographic divide in Georgia.

Rural South and Middle Georgia counties were clustered at the bottom of the state’s health rankings, and urban/suburban at the top.

Now economic factors have been added to those figures in a new list that shows a link between a Georgia county’s financial health and the health of its citizens.

It’s the second year that Partner Up for Public Health, an advocacy campaign, has generated this comparison. The top 10 and the bottom 10 show that counties tend to score well or poorly on both measures.

Fayette and Oconee counties – near Atlanta and Athens, respectively — tied for first place in the Partner Up “Power Ratings” of Georgia counties, based on combined health status (from the University of Wisconsin rankings) and economic vitality. Macon County, in west central Georgia, finished last on the new list.

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“If a county has healthy citizens, they’ll have healthy employees, who will be more productive at their jobs,’’ said Matt Caseman, executive director of the Georgia Rural Health Association, in an interview Wednesday.

“Companies are going to want to locate their businesses in a county that has better health statistics,’’ with  good access to physicians, hospitals and preventive care, Caseman added.

For the economic figures, the new rankings used the 2012 job tax credit rankings, which are based on poverty rates, unemployment and average per capita income. These tax credits are designed to give incentives to employers to create jobs in impoverished areas of the state. The worse off a county is, the higher the tax credit.

The Partner Up analysis, funded by Healthcare Georgia Foundation, reverses the job index rankings, showing that counties with the highest credits are the weakest economically.

Charles Hayslett of the Hayslett Group, which is managing the Partner Up campaign, said the findings are not a surprise to health officials. Political and business leaders should be aware of the linkage between health and the economy of an area, he said.

Compared with last year’s rankings, Gwinnett surged from No. 14 to No. 7, while Towns County, not in the top 20 last year,  jumped to No. 9 this year. Gwinnett is one of the major core counties of metro Atlanta, while Towns is a North Georgia mountain county heavily involved in tourism.

Meanwhile, rural Ben Hill, Crisp and Randolph counties dropped into the bottom 10 from higher positions last year.

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