2017 County Health Rankings
What is keeping Washtenaw from being the healthiest county in Michigan? Equitable, fair opportunities for all needed to improve health
For the eighth consecutive year, Washtenaw County ranks first among Michigan counties in health factors, according to the 2017 County Health Rankings released today. Yet, Washtenaw is only eighth among Michigan counties for health outcomes, down from seventh in 2016. The Rankings, and several other data sources, make it clear that one of the key ways to improve the health of Washtenaw is to advance equity.
“We have a strong foundation for health in Washtenaw County,” says Ellen Rabinowitz, health officer with Washtenaw County Public Health. “But, that is not everyone’s experience. Race, income and neighborhoods are strong predictors of individuals’ ability to live their healthiest lives. As a department, as a community, we have an obligation to do better and to focus on fairness and opportunity for all.”
The County Health Rankings show Washtenaw has the best clinical care in the state. However, the Rankings make it clear that good health relies on factors beyond medical care. The model looks at other elements that help people live healthy lives, such as access to smoke-free environments, healthy food, clean water, community connections, educational and employment opportunities and safe housing.
Overall good rankings often conflict with many residents’ lived experiences. For example, in 2014, Ann Arbor was ranked as the country’s most educated city and the number six best city for wellbeing; yet, in 2015, Ann Arbor was ranked as the eighth most economically segregated city in the U.S. and Washtenaw County was in the bottom eight percent for upward income mobility.
These trends are also visible in Washtenaw County’s own source of county health data, called the Health Improvement Plan survey. It provides evidence that significant differences in health exist within the county based on how much money people earn, where in the county they live, their level of formal education and their race.
Washtenaw County Public Health, the Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development and other partners are working together to create change on multiple levels (structural, individual and institutional). Ultimately, the goal is to create a framework that applies an equity lens to our decision making, including the creation of more equitable policies, procedures, goals, trainings and budgets.
Similarly, Washtenaw County Public Health, while always committed to addressing disparities in health, is working to bring more community voices to its health assessment and planning process. Although a strong community partnership already guides Washtenaw County’s Health Improvement Plan, the partnership is working to bring more residents’ voices into the process and to work with them to identify the root causes of health challenges and create positive change.
“We have to bring more residents into our decision making processes. We need to hear about their lived experiences. Working together, we can build systems and practices that are fair, just and – healthier,” says Rabinowitz.
About the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps
The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, are available online at www.countyhealthrankings.org
Washtenaw County Health Improvement Plan
Partnerships, Data, and Strategies: Since 1995, Washtenaw County Public Health has led a countywide partnership called the Health Improvement Plan (HIP). The purpose is to improve health in Washtenaw County by facilitating partnerships, providing information and developing strategies. The HIP partnership has conducted the HIP survey every five years since 1995 and uses the data to identify inequities and to develop shared priorities and plans for improvements. Full, searchable results are available in English and Spanish at http://hip.ewashtenaw.org.
Washtenaw County Opportunity Index
The Washtenaw County Office of Community and Economic Development (OCED) and local partners, including Washtenaw County Public Health, have developed an Opportunity Index – a tool used to “map” disparities in our community related to health, education, job access, economic vitality, and neighborhood safety and stability. It is available at www.opportunitywashtenaw.org