Fayette County’s health rankings: Some highs, some surprising lows

Montage by Joyce Beverly.
Which Georgia county has the best access to healthcare but the second worst potential exposure to polluted drinking water? Yep, it’s Fayette.
 
Fayette County holds the distinction of some of the best health rankings in the state and nearly the worst of some environmental rankings in the fifth annual County Health Rankings and Roadmaps released recently by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
 
The worst rankings are linked to two consecutive years of documented problems with the Fayette County Water System.
 
For a detailed — and surprising — review of where Fayette stands with some of the 29 factors that influence health, read on.
 
Fayette is #2 for overall health in Ga.
 
No other county in Georgia has better access to healthcare or more people with health insurance than Fayette, but few have more serious environmental problems, according to a recent report which ranks the overall health of nearly every county in all 50 states. 
 
Since last year’s findings, Fayette has risen from third to second place overall for health status and economic factors in Georgia. Twenty-nine factors that influence health are measured in the report, including the number of hospitalizations and insured, access to healthcare, diabetic and breast cancer screenings, quality of drinking water, commuter data, length and quality of life, smoking, obesity, inactivity, economic and educational achievements, and more.
 
Fayette County’s preventable hospitalization rate is the best in Georgia and ranks in the 90th percentile of all counties in America, according to the fifth annual County Health Rankings and Roadmaps released recently by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
 
Fayette County also leads Georgia’s 159 counties in having the lowest percentage of uninsured population and the best overall access to clinical care, according to the report. Statistics concerning insurance, hospital stays, diabetic screenings and mammograms as well as access to primary care physicians, dentists and mental health providers were all factored together to place Fayette in the number one position in Georgia for clinical care.
 
The county ranked sixth worse, however, for physical environment in Georgia, affected significantly by recent drinking water issues. The percentage of population potentially exposed to polluted drinking water in FY 2012-2013 ranked second highest in the state at 40 percent. Only tiny Truetlen County in southeast Georgia, where 50 percent of residents lived in an area where drinking water violations were reported, was worse. Two-thirds of Georgia’s counties have 1 percent or lower exposure in this area.
 
The number of people commuting 30 minutes or more alone also factored into the county’s low ranking for environmental conditions.
 
A few areas in which Fayette County’s numbers stand out follow.
 
Fewest preventable hospitalizations
 
Fayette’s hospitalization rate for ambulatory-care sensitive conditions per 1,000 Medicare enrollees is 43, the lowest in a state where this number soars as high as 194. It is significantly lower than the statewide overall number of 65 people per 1,000 Medicare enrollees. Top performing counties in America, those in the 90th percentile, have 46 or fewer preventable hospitalizations per 1,000.
 
Most insured in Ga.
 
Thirteen percent of Fayette’s population under age 65 and under do not have health insurance, according to the report. This number is nearly one third of Georgia’s worst counties, where as many as 35% do not have insurance, and is almost 10% lower than the overall statewide average. In the U.S., Fayette is two percent away from the 90th percentile of states where 11% or fewer people are uninsured.
 
Access to doctors
 
Fayette’s ratio of population to primary care physicians and dentists is in the top 10 percent of all counties in America.
 
People per primary care physician is 906:1 in Fayette, which ranks fourth in Georgia, only behind Columbia, Floyd and Bibb counties. It is well within the 10 percent of counties across America, where the top performers have 1,051 or fewer people per physician. 
 
The number of residents per dentist in Fayette is 1,103, also well under the 1,439 or fewer people per dentist in America’s top performing counties. Chattahoochee County has an astoundingly low rate of 371:1 people per dentist.
 
There is one mental health provider per 1,287 residents in Fayette, compared to one per 536 residents in the country’s best performing counties. 
 
Diabetic screenings
 
Fayette is also in the top 10 percent of counties for diabetes screening. In Fayette, 90 percent of Medicare enrollees receive HbA1c screening. Only one county in Georgia, Turner, has a higher percentage of people who are screened for diabetes, at 91 percent.  Nationally, counties ranking in the 90th percentile have 90 percent or better participation in this same population.
 
Mammograms
 
Sixty-six percent of female Medicare enrollees receive mammography screenings, higher than Georgia’s overall percentage of 61% but lower than the 71% screened in the country’s top performers.
 
Drinking water
 
Forty percent of Fayette’s population was potentially exposed to water exceeding a violation limit in the year the study measured, compared to none in the county’s in America where water is safest. Overall in Georgia, 7 percent of the population consumed risky drinking water.
 
Long, lonely commutes
 
Forty-eight percent of Fayette’s workers commute alone in their cars for 30 minutes or more per day, a factor which figured into the county’s overall poor ranking for environmental factors. 
 
In Georgia, this number averages about 38 percent. Nationally, the healthiest commutes have 15 percent or fewer residents driving alone for an hour or more per day.
 
Find out more about more than 20 other factors affect how healthy Fayette is by visiting www.countyhealthrankings.org/app/georgia/2014/overview.