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County residents live long and prosper

People living in Jackson County have the best health and longest lifespans in southwest Oregon.

However, the county finishes in the middle of the pack compared to all counties in the state, according to the national 2019 County Health Rankings report.

Jackson County ranks 16th in the state on health outcomes — beating out Curry County at No. 28, Douglas County at No. 29, Coos County at No. 30, Josephine County at No. 33 and Klamath County at No. 35.

Klamath County had the worst health outcomes in the state. Of Oregon’s 36 counties, 35 had data to be included in the annual report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The rankings identify problem areas and help counties see which efforts to improve health are working.

“It really helps inform us as we move forward,” said Jackson Baures, Jackson County Public Health Division manager.

Average life expectancy in Jackson County is 78.7 years, only slightly lower than the Oregon average of 79.6, according to the report.

Problem areas

The rankings flag several problem areas for the county. The housing shortage, smoking, obesity, excessive drinking, low high school graduation rates and violent crime are harming residents’ health.

High housing costs and a shortage of rentals are plaguing many Oregon communities.

Statewide, 17 percent of households spent more than half of their income on housing costs, making it hard for them to afford medical care, food, transportation and other essentials that contribute to good health, according to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Jackson County households are worse off, with 23 percent spending more than half of their income on housing.

“It’s unacceptable that so many individuals and families face barriers to health because of what they have to spend on housing. This leaves them with fewer dollars to keep their families healthy,” said Richard Besser, a doctor and the president and chief executive officer of the foundation.

Comparing data from five years ago to the most recent data shows that excessive drinking, violent crime, housing costs and sexually transmitted diseases are all up in Jackson County.

Baures said STDs are on the rise locally, in Oregon, across the United States and internationally.

Many blame the proliferation of apps that allow people to meet and have sex with people they don’t know.

“That’s one aspect that has helped increase sexually transmitted infections,” Baures said.

To help combat the problem, Jackson County launched a “Get Yourself Tested” campaign.

Jackson County Public Health offers confidential STD testing and can help infected people notify sexual partners that they have been exposed. The county is emphasizing that most STDs are curable and all are treatable.

In another challenge, excessive drinking has increased from 14 percent of the Jackson County population to 21 percent.

Baures urged people to drink in moderation if they choose to drink.

Ahead of the pack

The national report also reveals Jackson County’s strengths.

The majority of residents — 84 percent — are physically active.

Only 10 percent of adults are uninsured, compared to 25 percent five years ago. The number of uninsured children dropped from 8 percent to 4 percent.

The changes are likely due to the federal Affordable Care Act, which made government-subsidized health insurance available to more people. While some states opted out, Oregon’s state government has embraced the expansion of health coverage.

Jackson County has more primary care physicians, dentists and mental health providers per resident than it had five years ago.

Medford is a regional hub for healthcare. Additionally, local coordinated care organizations — which manage subsidized Oregon Health Plan benefits — offer dental and mental health coverage.

Although Jackson County lags on high school graduation rates, one of its strengths is that 62 percent of adults have at least some college education, according to the national report.

That may be due in part to partnerships between local high schools, Rogue Community College and Southern Oregon University.

Over the past five years, the teen birth rate fell from 36 per 1,000 teen females to 25 per 1,000 teen females, according to the report.

Avoiding teen pregnancy means more girls will go on to enroll in trade school or college, and take other steps to fulfill their potential, Baures said.

Jackson County Public Health has worked for several years on a school-based program that educates students about sexual health, safe relationships and related issues, he said.

A stronger local and national economy is also contributing to residents’ health.

Unemployment was at 10.8 percent five years ago in Jackson County but has dropped to 4.8 percent, the report said.

No quick fixes

Baures said community partners are continuing to work together to improve health in Jackson and Josephine counties. The partners include public health agencies, hospitals, addiction treatment providers, mental health providers and coordinated care organizations.

He said tackling the social and economic issues that impact people’s health is a long-term effort.

“Most if not all of these are not quick fixes. They take a lot of time and a lot of people working together. It could take some time to see the benefits of the work the community is doing together,” Baures said.

The full County Health Rankings report is available at countyhealthrankings.org.

Reach Mail Tribune reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@rosebudmedia.com. Follow her on Twitter @VickieAldous.

Jackson County ranks best in southwest Oregon for health, but excessive drinking, sexually transmitted diseases and crime are on the rise.{ }