Routt ranked healthiest rural community in nation by US News and World Report | SteamboatToday.com

Routt ranked healthiest rural community in nation by US News and World Report

STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Routt County is the country's healthiest high-performing rural community, according to U.S. News and World Report health rankings, which were released this year. In the overall 2018 rankings, Routt County was the eighth healthiest community in the nation.

The rankings look at 80 indicators across 10 health-related categories, including population health, equity, education, economy, housing, food and nutrition, environment, public safety, community vitality and infrastructure.

Data was collected from nearly 3,000 counties, and the top 100 were named in four categories: rural and urban high-performing communities in the top economic half of U.S. counties and rural and urban up-and-coming communities from the bottom economic half of counties. The categories allow for geographically and economically similar comparisons, according to U.S. News.

Nine out of the top 25 high-performing rural communities are in Colorado. Also making it into the top 10 were Ouray, Grand, Chaffee and Pitkin counties.

While Routt County's aggregate score places it at the top of high-performing rural communities, the data also provide an opportunity to focus on areas with room for improvement, Deputy Routt County Manager Dan Weinheimer said, noting that Routt didn't have the highest score in any single category.

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"The survey highlights areas of success as well as opportunities to continue to work on public health equity and access,” he said. “The data demonstrates we are performing well in the areas of population health and creating healthy environments but still have work to do on other areas like affordable housing."

Each community was given a score in each category on a scale of zero to 100. Routt County's lowest score was in housing, with a 52.8, which is better than Grand, at 39.7, and Pitkin, at 38.8.

The housing piece is a big one, Weinheimer acknowledged, and finding safe and affordable housing can be a "huge stressor," he said.

“There's a lot of room for growth, and we are coming up with solutions as we speak. It's a good spotlight and kick in the pants to spend more time on that issue."

A lower equity score of 58.9 also shows a need for more outreach to the traditionally underserved population and a closer look at things like transportation, Weinheimer said. It's also an opportunity to leverage existing programs, he said.

Another lower score was on education at 58.6. But other surveys show recent gains in that area, including a top three state ranking for Steamboat Springs School District, according to the Colorado Department of Education's preliminary 2018 assessment results. The same results ranked South Routt School District as 10th in the state, with individual schools ranking at the top of the region.

Graphic by Nicole Miller

History of recognition

This isn't the first time Routt County has been recognized at the top of the nation in terms of health.

In 2013, survey results released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention identified Routt County as the fittest county in Colorado, which was ranked as the fittest state in the U.S.

In 2017, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation recognized Routt County as the fourth healthiest Colorado county, up from seventh place in 2016, fifth in 2015 and 11th in 2014.

Other surveys show good progress on health care access, with Routt County ranking among the top 10 counties in the state, according to the 2017 Access to Care Index by the Colorado Health Institute.

The U.S. News rankings, which were put together in collaboration with the Aetna Foundation, are the first of their kind and will be updated annually.

The data helps Routt County collaborate with Northwest Colorado Health on continuing to work to improve all facets related to health, Weinheimer said, especially in looking at "social determinants" that go beyond medical measurements but have significant impacts on health outcomes.

“Where we work, live and play impacts our health, and it is important to take environmental factors into consideration while protecting our most vulnerable populations and promoting community vitality,” Kari Ladrow, director of Public Health at Northwest Colorado Health, was quoted as saying in a news release.

Ladrow said the Community Health Assessment Planning System steering committee is seeking a comprehensive, regional approach to identify health priorities to create a “strategic and thoughtful” plan.

The U.S. News rankings bring valuable "recognition for what we have and where we want to go," Weinheimer said.

To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @KariHarden

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