(DOH-Flagler News Release) - The Florida Department of Health in Flagler County (DOH-Flagler) recognizes the value in measuring health outcomes and today acknowledged the 2019 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps tool released by the University of Wisconsin and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This study highlights the many community factors that influence health and uses established data, much of which is available from the department at www.FLHealthCHARTS.com.

Each year, the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps tool provides snapshots of the health of US counties and emphasizes that health is a combined work in progress that includes local government, state agencies, non-profit organizations, health care facilities, business groups, schools, faith-based organizations and other stakeholders. These rankings use data related to health behaviors (tobacco use, exercise, healthy eating), social and economic factors (income, education, employment), access to clinical care and physical environment, as influences on our health.

This year, the Florida Department of Health in Flagler County exceeded its long-term goal of breaking into the top ten healthiest counties in Florida. Health Officer Robert Snyder called the change in ranking, a five-point jump from 14 to 9, a major accomplishment.

"We are delighted that Flagler County continues to move in the right direction from a health perspective," said Snyder. "Our rankings for length of life improved relative to other counties, while our rankings for health behaviors and quality of life remained high with little change. These findings give us confidence that, as a community, we've made considerable progress since being ranked 27th five years ago. Most importantly, the data allows us to determine which behaviors and outcomes we need to address and improve going forward."

The 2019 rankings included both accomplishments and areas for improvement for Flagler County. One improved indicator was alcohol-impaired driving deaths (31%), which while tracking higher than the state average (25%), was 9 percentage points lower than 40% reported in 2018. However, some specific health behaviors - obesity, smoking, better nutrition and physical inactivity in Flagler County - continue to trend higher than the state average and showed little improvement over the past year. These and other behaviors will be included in the 2019-2022 Community Health Improvement Plan (CHIP), a community-focused document developed by the department and implemented in conjunction with community partners and stakeholders.

Carrie Baird, executive director for Flagler Cares who also facilitates both the Community Health Assessment and Community Health Improvement Plan for Flagler County, pointed to a few clinical care indicators that continue challenge area residents.

"We need to keep making strides to ensure our community members have access to the medical health they need," said Baird. "We need more physicians, we need more dentists, and, as we know all too well, we need many more mental health providers to keep up with demand."

Baird mentioned that one of Flagler Cares' committees, Flagler Lifeline, is focused on creating a vocal dialogue about suicide prevention and sharing information about mental health resources that exist in the community.

"We want to make sure people who need mental health services are able to get help," Baird added. "With help comes hope and Flagler Lifeline is doing what we can to change the conversation about suicide in our community."

DOH-Flagler Medical Director Dr. Stephen Bickel referenced sexually transmitted infections as another key area of focus for Flagler, given that rates continue to track higher statewide and throughout the community.

"The local rate growth for sexually transmitted diseases is an issue that we continue to address through our clinics," said Bickel. "STDs pose complex and daunting challenges for public health. There are many types, some more serious than others, and a lot of factors at work. The challenge is not only in treating patients when they present with STDs, but reaching the community at risk to educate and motivate them to adopt safe sex prevention practices. Clinicians, scientists, and educators are tackling these challenges on the local, state, and national levels to get this problem under control and we are hopeful for a meaningful breakthrough soon."

Bickel described DOH-Flagler's approach to health as population-based, and to address local issues, the department has launched clinics to treat HIV, Hepatitis C, tuberculosis and Hepatitis A over the past few years. Most recently, the department introduced a diabetes self-management education program and diabetes prevention program to help patients manage and prevent the chronic disease.

"We are identifying needs and coming up with health solutions that support our residents today and in the future," said Bickel. "We're proud of the progress we make each year and resolve to continue improving health in Flagler County."

To explore more health indicators in your county, visit www.FLHealthCHARTS.com.