Is parish in poor health?

Published 12:06 am Friday, April 6, 2012

VIDALIA — Statistically speaking, Concordia Parish residents are less healthy than Louisianans living in almost every other parish.

But statistics aren’t everything, a local health expert said.

Concordia Parish was ranked 63rd out of Louisiana’s 64 parishes in a national health report released this week examining how long people live and how healthy people feel while alive.

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The County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program examines almost all counties and parishes in the country to highlight the healthiest and least healthy areas in every state, as well as those factors that influence health, outside of the doctor’s office.

The rankings are broken into two groups — health outcomes, which measures mortality and morbidity rates, and health factors, which measures health behaviors and clinical care.

The goal of the rankings is to raise awareness about the many factors that influence health and prove health varies from place to place, the group said in a press release.

Dr. David Holcombe, regional administrator and medical director for the office of public health for central Louisiana, said the report should be taken with a grain of salt because of the numerous things that impact those rankings.

“There’s a lot of fine people in Concordia that do the best they can, but it’s a very poor area, and there are lots of health issues,” Holcombe said. “There are a lot of factors that determine that rating — not just how unhealthy an area is.”

Other Central Louisiana parishes that were rated as being in poor health included Catahoula and Tensas, while other parishes such as Vernon and LaSalle ranked highly.

Adams County ranked 73 out of 82 counties in Mississippi.

In the social and economic factors category, which includes factors like high school graduation and children in single-parent households, Concordia ranked 58th in the state.

Low high school graduation rates and college attendance levels affect the area’s mindset regarding a healthy lifestyle, Holcombe said.

“We tend to view these statistics as somehow inevitable and get used to them, so there’s little motivation for change,” Holcombe said. “And change is hard, but if we want to get improved outcomes we have to work on all these factors.”

In the clinical care category, which includes factors like uninsured citizens and diabetic screening, Concordia Parish ranked 48.

Having a population that heavily relies on Medicaid care is something Holcombe said affects rankings dramatically.

“Almost 25 percent of Concordia is on Medicaid and those people have limited access because not all providers accept it, and there’s another 20 percent that are completely uninsured.” Holcombe said. “Which means that about 50 percent of the population are either underinsured or uninsured.”

The parish’s highest ranking came in the physical environment category, which includes air pollution and fast food restaurants, where Concordia ranked seventh in the state.

With Louisiana also being one of the unhealthiest states in the nation, Holcombe said goals for improving these rankings shouldn’t just be within one parish, but on the state level.

“Louisiana in general has a lot of health challenges, but we need to rise to the level of the problems and address them head on,” Holcombe said. “We should look at this in the national perspective, so the goal is not just to be the No. 1 healthiest parish in Louisiana, but for Louisiana to be No. 1 in the United States.”