By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
Quay County has again found itself near the bottom among the state’s counties in a nationwide health ranking.
In a study sponsored by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin’s Population Health Institute, Quay ranked 29th among the state’s 32 counties whose results were measured in health outcomes, and 30th in life expectancy.
The county ranked 27th in quality of life measures, which include poor-to-fair health reporting rates, number of poor health days and low birth weight.
The county scored 22nd among the 32 counties in health factors, which include smoking, obesity, excessive drinking, and teen births, among others.
In social and economic factors, Quay County ranked 23rd among the counties. These factors include number of high school graduates, unemployment and children living in poverty among others.
About 25 percent of Quay County residents reported they were in “fair” or “poor” health, compared with 17 percent statewide and 10 percent in best performing counties in the U.S.
About 28 percent of Quay County adults are smokers, the study reported, compared with 19 percent statewide and 14 percent among the nation’s best-performing counties.
In teen births, Quay County reported 92 per 1,000 births, compared with 57 statewide and only 20 in the country’s top-performing counties.
Quay County reported 79 preventable hospital stays per 1,000 Medicare recipients, compared with 50 for New Mexico and 41 for the nation’s best-performing counties.
The study was the 2015 county rankings report conducted by the County Health Rankings and Roadmaps progam sponsored by the Woods foundation and the University of Wisconsin.
Alida Brown, coordinator of the Quay County Health Council, said she is working with experts in community health to explore the hiring of community health workers to enhance awareness of healthy behaviors in the county.
The health council, she said, is working on programs to combat diabetes and obesity, which the council has determined are priority issues.
In 2013, after similarly poor results were announced for Quay County in child welfare, Quay County set up a home visitation program, which is still in operation, to help expecting parents and those with young children connect with health and other community service relating to health and parenting issues.
Dr. Arthur Kaufman, vice chancellor for Community Health Sciences at the University of New Mexico has been discussing Quay County’s health situation with Brown.
Kaufman said Quay County’s issues are similar to those he is seeing statewide.
Community Health Sciences’ goal, he said, is to close “health equity” gaps in the state by addressing root causes of poor health results, especially those caused by preventable conditions that include diabetes and heart disease.
Root causes can be such factors as low education levels, high drop-out rates, inadequate income to buy nutritious foods, he said.
One approach under consideration he said, is a system of community health workers, who would be locally trained agents trained to help people with health-affecting factors such as knowledge about health-improving practices, help with paying utility bills and transportation to doctor’s appointments.
The health worker system, he said, would be similar in structure to New Mexico State University’s Extension Service offices that advise residents on farming and gardening matters.
“It would have locally trained agents who would live and work in the areas they serve and keep their fingers on the pulse of community health matters.”