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County rankings continue to show Pierce, St. Croix among state’s healthiest

Falcon News Service

November 16, 2016

Pierce and St. Croix counties continue to rank among the top 10 in the state in terms of how healthy they are, according to a national program that evaluates a variety of factors.

The annual County Health Rankings & Roadmaps evaluation this year ranks St. Croix the third and Pierce the fourth healthiest counties in Wisconsin. The program, run by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, tracks health factors in almost every county in the U.S.

Six years ago, St. Croix County ranked second and Pierce County was seventh.

“A lot of the same challenges are the same in 2016 as they were back then,” said Pierce County Director of Public Health Sue Galoff.

The three things at the top of the priority list are obesity, alcohol abuse and access to mental healthcare. Both counties, the four area hospitals and UW-River Falls work together on the community health needs assessment to determine what needs to be done to best help the community in the surrounding area.

Galoff said that there are always a few factors that benefit where Pierce County will fall in the rankings.

“We have strong education, low crime rates and most people have a higher socioeconomic status,” she said. This is something that hasn’t changed a lot since 2010 and, according to Galoff, won’t change in the foreseeable future.

Heather Logelin, director of community engagement for the River Falls Area Hospital, said that the county health rankings are only a small part of what the hospital looks at in determining the needs of patients and the community.

“We collaborate with Pierce County and of course we look at the data, including the county rankings,” said Logelin. She added that it’s best that the hospital does not rely strictly on the rankings because sometimes the data tend to lag behind by a couple years.

Some of the same factors that are beneficial to Pierce County in the rankings also benefit St. Croix County.

“Our quality of life is really high, our premature death rate is really low,” said Logelin. “We have a really highly educated population, so we have a relatively low smoking rate.” Logelin said education and smoking rates have a direct correlation.

The community health needs assessment makes up a big part of how both counties operate, but it is also extremely beneficial for UWRF, as well.

Alice Reilly-Myklebust, the director of Counseling and Health Services at UWRF, said she thinks that service availability is a large contributor to overall health, but “our environment and policies are the bigger issue.”

UWRF collects its own data through the National College Health Assessment, which comes out every three years. Along with the assessment, the university also has its Advisory Council on Health and Wellness, which meets twice a year, and several working groups that focus on meeting student needs.

Of course, since UWRF is an institution of higher education, the first priority is the academic impact that mental health has on students.

“That is our main concern moving forward — how it will impact how students do in the classroom,” said Reilly-Myklebust.

Reilly-Myklebust and her team really like to push life skills and wellness classes like yoga, meditation and pet therapy. Having access, Reilly-Myklebust said, is only part of the solution.

“We need to get more students involved and open to these experiences,” she said.

Ranking No. 1 in Wisconsin is Ozaukee County north of Milwaukee. It’s held that spot since 2013. In 2012, Ozaukee County was No. 2, displaced that year by No. 1-ranked St. Croix County.

The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps may be viewed online at countyhealthrankings.org.