Health rankings for the nation were issued recently by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. There are some other rankings, but the results tend to be the same. Traditionally, North Carolina is 34th or so in the nation. Unfortunately, Robeson County remains ranked at the bottom of the state. So the worst in a below average state is what it is, or what we are.
We are taught to find the good in everyone and every situation, but it gets daunting at times. So what is it that we are actually better than others at? Higher high school graduation rates than the state average (which unfortunately is countered by only 46 percent of our population having some college education vs.statewide 65 percent — which makes a different statement); our population does less excessive drinking and has fewer alcohol-impaired driving deaths than state averages — both surprising; and, finally, we do less long commutes while driving alone. Out of 35 measured items, we are better in four. That is four positive reviews and 31 thumbs-downs.
I saw a map of the rankings of county school systems and it very closely matched the health rankings maps. There is a direct correlation between health, education and socio-economic status.
Let’s take a look at the bottom 10 for health rankings: Robeson, Scotland, Edgecombe, Columbus, Hertford, Vance, Northhampton, Halifax, Swain and Bladen. All but one of these is an eastern county. There are 191 school systems. Many of these are charter schools or academies so they do relatively well or poor depending upon who they are trying to serve. Just looking at some of the county systems: Northhampton is 182, Robeson 177, Halifax 175, Edgecombe 169, Bladen 168, Hertford 142, Columbus 133. The point of this is no one has a great school system with a poor health ranking. They are locked at the hip and one affects the other.
These education, health status of the population and socio-economic status issues arise when health professionals are recruited. Robeson has 2,320 residents per primary care physician, which means they are responsible for 70 percent more than the state average of 1,410. Even worse is the figure of 4,630 residents per dentist being 150 percent more than the state rate of 1,890. Both the East Carolina University Learning Center and Southeastern Health’s arrangement with Campbell University are aimed at addressing these matters, but it is an uphill struggle. Oh yeah, throw in the icing on the cake of nearly 50 percent more uninsured than the state norm and you truly bring in the economics of the issue.
This is not intended to diminish the obvious things that can be done individually: diet, physical exercise, screenings, prenatal care, abstinence/restraint/safe sex and not smoking. If these are addressed we can at least get off of the bottom. There is a plethora of programs and services offered in our area to address these issues, but acting upon what is taught and learned is our real shortcoming.
Bill Smith is the director of the Robeson County Health Department.