Health statistics show link to local economy

Georgia counties with poor health statistics tend to lag on economic vitality as well, an analysis shows.

Partner Up for Public Health, an advocacy campaign, has produced a comparison of data ranking counties on health outcomes and economic strength.

The analysis “shows how intertwined they are,’’ said Charlie Hayslett, whose Hayslett Group firm manages the Partner Up campaign under a grant from the Healthcare Georgia Foundation.

Nineteen of the 20 Georgia counties at the bottom of the economic statistics are classified as rural, Hayslett said Wednesday.

The Partner Up analysis uses the state’s 2011 job tax credit rankings — based on poverty rates, unemployment and average per capita income – as an indicator of economic strength.

Tax credit rankings are designed to give incentives to employers to create jobs in poorer regions of the state. The worse off a county is, the higher the tax credit the state will give employers to create jobs there.

Health Stats Show link to Local Economy

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Hayslett’s analysis reverses the job index rankings to reflect the fact that counties with the highest tax credits are those with the weakest economic strength.

It then compares those economic rankings against the 2011 University of Wisconsin’s Health Outcomes rankings of Georgia counties, based on factors such as infant mortality and the percentage of the population in fair or poor health.

For example, Hancock County, with the lowest economic vitality of any of the state’s 159 counties, is 113th on health outcomes. Telfair County, at 158 in the tax credit rankings, is 145th on health outcomes.

Phaedra Corso of the University of Georgia’s College of Public Health said that while she has not analyzed the Partner Up data in detail, the figures show how economic and health factors are linked in Georgia.

“Your health is very much tied to socioeconomic status,’’ said Corso, head of the Department of Health Policy and Management. “Lower socioeconomic status and rural communities go hand in hand.’’

In high-poverty areas, access to medical care is often a problem, with many physicians refusing to see new Medicaid patients because of low payments for services, she said.

Hayslett said employers seeking to locate a facility in a county would assess its health status in terms of potential medical care costs and productivity.  A county with a high obesity rate would also typically have high rates of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and hypertension, he added.

The analysis also found that the counties with the worst health statistics also tend to have higher average Medicaid spending per capita.

Such statistics could remind the state’s business leadership of the importance of a community’s health, Hayslett said.

‘’Political leaders and business leaders used to talk about the link between health status and the economic strength of a community,’’ he said. “That has somehow faded from the radar screen.’’