Montgomery near top, Prince George's near bottom of list of healthy Maryland counties

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Local,Maryland,Ben Giles
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  • Prince George's ranks as one of Maryland's most unhealthy counties, while Montgomery County is considered the second healthiest in the state, according to a recent report.

    Poor access to health care, poor quality of the care available to residents, and a high rate of uninsured patients are among several of the glaring weaknesses in the health of Prince George's County citizens, a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found.

    By collecting data from agencies such as the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics, researchers rank Prince George's 17th among Maryland's 23 counties and Baltimore. Montgomery County, which received high marks for its ease of access to primary care physicians, ranked second only to Howard County.

    Health factors
    FactorMaryland ratePrince George's rateMontgomery rate
    Low birth weight9.1%10.5%8.0%
    Adult obesity27%32%19%
    Uninsured adults17%22%17%
    High school graduation80%70%85%
    Violent crime rate (per 100,000 pop.)649940240
    Source: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

    The foundation's study measured health outcomes for residents -- both how long people live and how they feel while alive. Researchers also analyzed a variety of factors that contribute to those outcomes, such as healthy behaviors and social and economic status, according to associate researcher Angela Russell.

    "The health of a community is really dependent on more than access to quality health care. It's really those underlying social and economic factors such as education, income and behavior, they all have a huge impact on how healthy we are," Russell said. "And we know that it's easier to be healthy if you live in a healthy community."

    In addition to its high rates of infant mortality and sexually transmitted diseases, Prince George's received low marks for its poor ratio of primary care physicians to patients and lower-than-average high school graduation rate.

    However, the most telling statistic in the report is the gap in median household income, according to Russell -- the average household earns $71,696 in Prince George's, slightly more than the state average, while Montgomery County households earn $93,895.

    Even if you have access to health care, exercise and healthy foods, you have to be able to afford it, Russell said, making median income "probably what's driving the difference more than anything."

    Officials in Prince George's County are working under County Executive Rushern Baker to improve access to medical care, such as the signing of a memorandum of understanding with the University of Maryland Medical System and the state, who have agreed to help build a $600 million regional medical center and teaching hospital.

    Other agreements have been reached with hospitals such as the Children's National Medical Center to provide better primary and dental care for children, noted Betty Hager Francis, deputy administrative officer for health, human services and education.

    "We do feel a sense of urgency in providing better health care for our citizens," said Francis. As for how long that will take, "it's hard to say. We're putting our foot on the gas to try and make it happen as fast as we can."

    bgiles@washingtonexaminer.com

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