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Picking up more spares: New rankings show Pierce County making steps toward long-term health improvements

The annual County Health Rankings released today showed significant improvement in areas we’ve targeted as keys to long-term better health in Pierce County.

Though we dropped from 19 to 20 (out of 39 counties) in the state in overall health outcomes, we saw gains in several of our most important goals.

We’re focused on the long term.

The overall ranking is based on health outcomes. That’s where we slipped a bit.

But the areas we improved are health factors. Those will lead to better outcomes down the road.

Let’s compare it to bowling. The health outcome is your score at the end of one game.

We want the improve the factors that will make your scores better in the long run. So we’re offering lessons, buying better shoes and fixing up the bowling alley!

Inside the numbers.

In health factors, we jumped from 24 in 2018 to 18 this year. Four components make up health factors, and they are weighted as follows.

  • 40% social economic factors—We improved from 18 to 14.
  • 30% clinical care—We moved from 19 to 17.
  • 20% health behaviors—We nudged from 23 to 22.
  • 10% physical environment—We leaped from 33 to 19.

We’re especially excited about the social and economic factors, because those can be tricky to turn around. Here are three we’re celebrating:

  • 3% decrease in kids living in poverty.
  • 3% increase in the high school graduation rate.
  • 1% increase in the employment rate.

These are great numbers, but you can see why it will take years or even decades for them to pay off in our health outcomes. We got here with the work of community partners like United Way, Graduate Tacoma, Goodwill and so many others. And the data behind those numbers is some of the most recent and reliable the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation uses in the rankings.

Improvements in health behaviors and clinical care are happy news as well. They mean more people have health insurance, and they’re using it.

Beautiful Tacoma Skyline (landscape)_JPG

That massive improvement in our physical environment is also worth getting excited about. Remember the Aroma of Tacoma days? We’ve seen our water quality and air pollution improve with big decreases in the dangerous particulates that smelled bad and put your health at risk.

There’s plenty of room to improve, and we will.

So, we’ve got better bowling equipment, we’re remodeling the alley, and we’re hitting strikes more often, but our score did drop a bit this time. It’s based on poor overall health days, both physical and mental, as well as low birth weights recorded on birth certificates.

Those will improve as our strategies pay off. We can continue to improve our collaborative efforts with partners around the county to boost our ranking in years to come.

While more people have health insurance, we need to work on using our access to health care—better. We still have too many hospital stays because people don’t seek primary care for preventable conditions like flu, COPD and diabetes. Not enough women get mammography screenings. And we need to invest more in pre-natal care, breast feeding and mother-child bonding.

Overall, we’re turning gutter balls into spares, spares into strikes—and strikes into wins! It’s slow, but it’s steady, and we’re excited to watch our hard work pay off with better health for you and your family.

Learn more about last year’s ranking and our long-term journey to improve health.