2017 Health Rankings Show WyCo Making Improvements

The 2017 Kansas County Health Rankings released near the end of March 2017 show that Wyandotte County is making significant progress in its efforts to improve the overall health of the community. Many of the indicators used to create the rankings show the county has improved in such categories as life expectancy, adult obesity, teen births, uninsured rate, and unemployment. Most of the other indicators remain unchanged.

“We are encouraged by the results of the 2017 rankings,” said Unified Government Mayor/CEO Mark Holland. “What they tell us is our coordinated approach to improving the community’s health is moving us in the right direction and offering us hope.”

Mayor Holland noted that many challenges remain and that it is difficult to respond to annual updates on generational issues. “These numbers in no way suggest that Wyandotte County has arrived at optimal health. We still face big challenges related to poverty, education, and access to quality jobs—all of which contribute to our community’s overall health. These rankings help keep our feet to the fire as we work for long-term, sustainable improvements.”

Every year, the Kansas Health Institute releases a report that ranks counties in Kansas according to health outcomes (disease and death rates) and health factors (factors that can shape the outcomes). In 2009, Wyandotte County learned that it had ranked last in the state. This spurred government and health leaders to form Healthy Communities Wyandotte (HCW), a coalition with more than 100 organizations addressing a number of the factors that have contributed to poor health outcomes.

The 2017 rankings show that Wyandotte County’s position relative to other counties remains largely unchanged from past years, with a ranking of 101 out of 102 counties. Tony Wellever, retired associate professor at KU Medical Center and a health policy researcher said that a “number of health conditions and health indicators in Wyandotte County still improved despite the fact that its overall position in the state rankings does not vary much from year to year.”

Some of those improvements can be seen from year to year; others over several years. They include:

  • A greater lifespan due to a 9.8 percent reduction in premature deaths since 2011;
  • A 22.8 percent improvement in preventable hospital stays since 2011;
  • A 36 percent obesity rate, which is the lowest percentage over a 7-year period;
  • A 20-percent reduction in teen births since 2011;
  • A significant reduction in the uninsured rate, from a high of 24% in 2010. The health rankings report a 19% uninsured rate for 2014, whereas a more current estimate from Enroll America reports a 14% uninsured rate in 2016.
  • The unemployment rate has dropped from 10.4% in 2014 to 6.1% (more current estimates put the county’s unemployment rate at 5.7%).

Cathy Harding, chair of the Healthy Communities Wyandotte Steering Committee, said the rankings serve as an opportunity to draw attention to projects that aim to improve the county’s health. “As health leaders, we recognize that our efforts will take time to yield results that bring the county out of the lower end of the state’s health rankings,” Harding said. “But we are confident that with data-driven planning and consistent community organizing, we will see progress within our community.” Some project highlights over the last year include:

  • The most successful health insurance enrollment effort in Kansas, led by the Community Health Council, reduced the rate of uninsured from 26% to 14% (2013-2016);
  • The Health Department launched the Baby and Me Tobacco Free program, which assists new mothers in quitting smoking;
  • HCW worked with the Unified Government to secure federal funding for bikeway improvements to Metropolitan Ave; and a study of the Rock Island Bridge (near Kemper Arena) to see if it can serve as a river-crossing for the Levee Trail;
  • Through the Safe Routes to School partnership (Unified Government and BikeWalkKC), 7 new schools in KCK committed to launching Walking School Bus programs;
  • The HCW Coalition launched a Policy Committee to organize and intensify its focus on advocating for healthy public policies;
  • The Unified Government distributed $1.2 million in health funding through the UG-Hollywood Casino/Schlitterbahn Vacation Village grant fund;
  • The Latino Health for All Coalition worked with KCK corner stores to provide healthier options, and helped provide exercise stations and a new walking path in Bethany Park;
  • Wyco safety net providers are working together to create a more integrated healthcare system.

The HCW coalition also includes organizations whose missions are not often associated with health. The Kansas City, Kansas Public School District, for example, has launched “Diploma Plus,” a program that aims to improve students’ chances of getting into college.

The Wyandotte Economic Development Council (WYEDC) is participating in job training efforts and developing workforce solutions to give all Wyandotte County residents a shot at well-paying jobs.

“We know that health rankings are heavily influenced by socio-economic factors,” said WYEDC President Greg Kindle. “Wyandotte County has seen significant investment and jobs growth, but there is a disconnect between the jobs being created and many in the community who are largely working poor. We think there is a real opportunity to more deliberately connect our citizens with those jobs and help our companies at the same time.”

For the complete Kansas health rankings go to www.khi.org.