Increase in STD cases and drunk driving deaths contributing to the Crook County decline

Crook County took a significant step backward in county health rankings in 2018, leaving health officials looking for ways to make improvements.

Last year, the county ranked 12th overall, but dropped to 28th out of 36 counties, with substantial declines in such measures as quality of life, which dropped from 18 to 28, and health behaviors, which fell from 12 to 23.

Muriel DeLaVergne-Brown, Crook County Health Department director, met with other public health directors late last week to discuss the rankings and ways to fix some of the problems that caused some of the decline. She singled out low birth weight, for example, the prevalence of which contributed to the low quality of life ranking. In Crook County, 7 percent of children had a low birth weight as opposed to 6 percent throughout Oregon and throughout the U.S.

"We have a new program called the Prenatal Care Continuum we are doing with Deschutes and Jefferson County," DeLaVergne-Brown said. "What we are trying to do is meet with every pregnant woman and make sure they get all of the services they need."

Such services include doctor appointments, dental care and connection to such services as WIC (Woman, Infants and Children Food and Nutrition Service) and Oregon Health Plan.

"I think the other thing around low birth weight is Crook County still has a fairly high number of women who use tobacco," she said, adding that work is under way to promote the tobacco quit line and other tobacco cessation services.

Drunk driving death also affected the health outcomes portion of the rankings, with Crook County's premature death ranking dropping from 12 in 2017 to 22 this year. Premature deaths are calculated by counting a county's years of potential life lost before age 75 per 100,000 in population. From 2014-2016, 7,200 years of life lost were counted for Crook County, 1,200 more than the average throughout Oregon.

"We have a drug and alcohol prevention program," DeLaVergne-Brown said. "We have two high school students who work in our prevention program, just trying to get the message across regarding youth alcohol use and alcohol use in general."

Health behaviors, which factor in adult smoking, obesity and sexually transmitted diseases, also dipped considerably. In 2017, Crook County ranked 12, but this year dropped to 23. While DeLaVergne-Brown acknowledges that smoking remains a serious problem locally, she said a rise in STDs played a prominent role in the year-over-year change.

"Our STD rate was kind of high," she remarked, but went on to note that it may have less to do with the number of illnesses and more with ability to detect them. "If you are really good at testing and finding contacts and treating, you will probably have a higher rate. We work really hard at that."

Crook County ranks poorly in other categories where problems have persisted year after year. For example, the county has ranked last in social and economic factors for the past three years in a row.

"How do we make sure that families are supported?" DeLaVergne-Brown said with regards to solving the child poverty issues facing the community. "That is more of a whole community issue. It has to do with employment, it has to do with housing and those kinds of things."

Child poverty is just one of many health-related issues that DeLaVergne-Brown believes will require help from multiple local groups to address. However, she is hopeful that local leaders and groups will step up to the challenge as evidenced by recent participation in a Blue Zone designation effort.

"We didn't get Blue Zone," she said, referring to a state designation that provides funding to improve community health and longevity, "but we have Crook County On The Move. They are working on nutrition, and they are working on physical activity. I think we have a lot of opportunity because we have more groups working on some of these areas."

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