Columbia County is fourth in Georgia in its health and wealth, while Richmond and McDuffie counties are in the bottom half and Burke County is in the bottom 10, according to data from a public health group.
Georgia does not include public health in its deliberations when doing economic development, unlike some other states, even though the two topics are closely intertwined at the local level, said Charles Hayslett, whose Hayslett Group LLC manages Partner Up! for Public Health. Regardless of where people live, they will pay for the poor health of others, he said.
Partner Up! for Public Health, which promotes public health issues in Georgia, took health rankings from the recently released County Health Rankings produced by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and paired them with a ranking of counties by wealth produced by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs for a job tax credit program designed to help the poorest counties.
The wealth ranking looked at average income, the unemployment rate and the poverty rate.
The wealthiest counties tended to have the highest health rankings, too, Hayslett said.
Columbia County was second on the wealth ranking and seventh on the health ranking, giving it a combined score of 4.5 (the sum of the two rankings divided by two). Oconee and Fayette counties tied for first, Richmond County was tied for 94th, McDuffie was 97th and Burke was 149th. The ranking had 156 counties; three counties did not receive health rankings because of lack of data.
The impact of these rankings does not stop at the county line, Hayslett said.
“The one thing that seems clear is that if you’ve got a profoundly unhealthy population, you’re not going to have a very strong economy,” he said. “And that bad health is going to be a drag on economic development not just for the community that is involved but frankly for the entire state because those costs, like it or not, are shared.”
In Medicaid costs per capita last year, for instance, the poorest/unhealthiest counties had double the Medicaid cost of the healthier/wealthier counties, Hayslett said.
“The folks in Columbia County are helping to pick up that tab, whether they know it or like it or not,” Hayslett said. “If you’re less concerned about health status for the sake of health status in the population, you ought to care about it from an economic standpoint and from a cost standpoint.”
Recent statewide economic initiatives such as the Georgia Competitiveness Initiative have not looked at health, however, while New York has taken steps to ensure that its Regional Economic Development Councils include an emphasis on improving health as part of economic development projects, such as including walkable neighborhoods or transportation. Education is also a key determinant of health that needs to be included in the discussion, which is often too narrowly focused, said Dr. Andrew Balas, the dean of the College of Allied Health Sciences at Georgia Health Sciences University.
“I think it is absolutely clear that if you would like to promote economic development we have to promote public health improvement in the region as well,” he said. “Those cities and regions that are really active, they look at the full infrastructure, what makes a community a desirable place to bring business there or develop business there.”