Gulf County can’t get away from the middle of the pack when it comes to health.
The county ranked 34th this year in a ranking of the healthiest counties in the state, dropping a bit from 31st last year.
Two years ago, the county was 33rd out of Florida’s 67 counties.
The rankings, for health factors and health outcomes, come each year from the annual “Health Rankings and Roadmaps” report issued by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin.
The rankings are compiled in each state and county and offer annual statistical comparisons on a county-by-county level across a range of factors, including socio-economics, demographics and access to health care.
The rankings are a snapshot of the health of counties and emphasize that health is not a singular effort but a combined work in progress across community partners, according to a release from the Florida Department of Health in Gulf County.
The department, the release continued, works in collaboration with local governments, non-profits, health care facilities, business groups, schools, faith-based organizations and other stakeholders to improve health in all people.
“What I appreciate most about county health rankings is the ability to better understand what makes up our health,” said Sarah Hinds, Administrator of the Florida Department of Health in Franklin and Gulf Counties.
“Fifty percent is tied to health behaviors and clinical care. The other 50 percent is tied to social, economic and physical environmental factors, which can positively or negatively impact other health indicators.
“To put good health within everyone’s reach, we must work with community partners to improve the conditions where we live, learn, work, play and worship. This is where health starts.”
The highest-ranked counties in Northwest Florida were Santa Rosa and Okaloosa, while neighboring counties were consistently ranked behind Gulf County.
St. Johns County again topped the rankings in Florida.
The overall Health Factors summary score is a weighted composite of four components: health behaviors (30 percent), clinical care (20 percent), social and economic factors (40 percent) and physical environment (10 percent).
A major issue in Gulf County, which is older, whiter and more male by percentage of the population than state averages, is health behaviors, for which the county ranks 42nd in Florida.
According to the Rankings and Roadmaps report, Gulf County is well behind state averages and the top counties in the country in the number of adult smokers, excessive drinking, sexually transmitted diseases, adult obesity and physical inactivity.
Gulf is also a county with an above average number of uninsured residents and is well behind state averages for access to primary care physicians, dentists and medical specialists.
For example, there are 2,280 residents for every primary care physician in the county; that is nearly double the state average.
There are 8,080 residents for every dentist in the county; the state average is 1,700 residents per dentist.
As for mental health providers, there are 1,800 residents for every provider in Gulf County; the state average is 670.
In a link to the deficit in physical activity, the county also ranks well behind the state averages and the country’s top-performing counties in access to exercise opportunities.
The county is also well behind the state average for the percentage of children living in poverty and living with food “insecurity.”
In Gulf and Franklin counties, a Community Health Improvement Plan aims to address specific opportunities to improve health outcomes identified during a survey of the community.
The health department and many other stakeholders implemented the CHIP and regularly track progress.
Over the past three years, community priorities have focused on access to health care, access to healthy lifestyle opportunities and access and awareness of mental health and substance abuse support services, according to the FDOH press release.
The CHIP partnership, for example, created and printed a mental health and substance abuse resource guide for Gulf and Franklin counties.
In addition, health screenings in more localized settings are being made more widely available through coalitions with civic and faith-based partners.
The CHIP partners have also created strategies to increase awareness of and access to Women, Infants and Children (WIC) services, specifically trying to reach pregnant women in their first trimester.
“In public health, our role is to orchestrate the collaboration among community partners to improve health outcomes,” Hinds said. “I encourage everyone to join the community health improvement partner workshops as we strive to make Gulf a healthier place for our citizens and for generations to come.”
But, Hinds noted, in the aftermath of Hurricane Michael, priorities could take on a new shape as the health department is currently in the process of a new community health assessment cycle.
As one example, new partnerships have formed with long-term recovery efforts to provide disaster case management to support individuals and families with unmet needs.
The North Port St. Joe Project Area Coalition (NPSJ-PAC) is working with the health department on a project called PACE-EH (Protocol for Assessing Community Excellence in Environmental Health) to improve priorities such as affordable housing and job training.