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The Telegram
  • Oneida, Herkimer counties rank low in medical study

  • A high number of premature deaths and a lack of access to primary care doctors are among the major health challenges facing Oneida and Herkimer counties, according to the 2011 County Health Rankings released Wednesday.

    To combat those problems, health officials said they can work with local organizations to increase emergency-response training and improve the recruitment of primary doctors.

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  • A high number of premature deaths and a lack of access to primary care doctors are among the major health challenges facing Oneida and Herkimer counties, according to the 2011 County Health Rankings released Wednesday.
    To combat those problems, health officials said they can work with local organizations to increase emergency-response training and improve the recruitment of primary doctors.
    But most health issues also can be addressed through education about preventative measures, such as eating right and visiting your doctor, Oneida County Health Director Gayle Jones said.
    “Ultimately, the health of the community is the responsibility of all residents of the county,” she said.
    The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute conducted the nationwide study and released the findings Wednesday for each state.
    Oneida County is 53rd out of 62 counties in the state for health outcomes and 28th for health factors. Herkimer County was 44th in health outcomes and 41st in health factors. Health outcomes cover mortality and morbidity. Health factors cover health behaviors, clinical care, physical environment and social and economic factors.
    Angela Russell, associate researcher for University of Wisconsin institute, said the study should be viewed as a “community health checkup.”
    The hope is that the study motivates government officials, health care professionals, business leaders and others to get involved in bringing about improvements in areas where there are problems, Russell said.
    “It really takes everybody together to make a coordinated effort,” she said.
    The study looked at premature deaths by reviewing how many years of potential life before age 75 were lost per 100,000 people in each county. Oneida and Herkimer counties ranked significantly worse than the state average.
    It’s difficult to pinpoint why, but a variety of health factors such as obesity and smoking can lead to premature death, said Robert Scholefield, vice president and chief operating officer of St. Elizabeth Medical Center in Utica.
    Both counties also ranked worse than the state average for smoking and obesity.
    Dr. Gregory O’Keefe, Herkimer County’s director of public health, said he believes another factor — at least for Herkimer County — is that many residents live in rural areas where it’s difficult to obtain immediate access to care in response to heart disease and stroke.
    With significant travel time to hospitals, the county can try to prevent premature deaths by increasing training for emergency responders who receive calls and transport patients, O’Keefe said. A high number of volunteer fire departments also adds to the training challenges, he said.
    Tony Salce is the education coordinator for Faxton St. Luke’s Healthcare’s emergency medical services education program. The program offers emergency medical technician training in Oneida, Herkimer and Madison counties.
    The courses — as well as cardiopulmonary resuscitation classes — also are available to the public, and the state has ensured that such courses are free for any members of emergency-response organizations Salce said.
    Page 2 of 2 - “We strongly encourage that for everybody in the community,” he said.
    Both counties also were worse than the state average in the ratio of residents to primary care providers.
    The University at Albany’s Center for Health Workforce Studies found earlier this year that the Mohawk Valley has fewer doctors per capita than any other region in the state.
    Jones, the Oneida County health director, said the area’s economy is among the concerns for why fewer primary care doctors want to work here. That has to be countered by trying to offer incentives to entice doctors to stay in the area, she said.
    “You put more promotion and effort into trying to recruit physicians,” Jones said.
    One way St. E’s has been successful at recruiting primary care doctors has been by offering training through the St. Elizabeth Family Medicine Center, Scholefield said. A large percentage of the doctors stay in the area after the training, and 10 new people will enter the program in June, he said.
    “We’re competing with a bunch of other areas,” he said.

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