Health advances must see continued improvement

April 7, 2017
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The West Michigan community has been provided with several sets of new information giving an important overview of the “wellness” of the metro area. None of these statistical comparisons offer reason to coast into complacency but, rather, continue to build on long-time efforts that have moved the needle — especially in regard to health equity among minority and majority communities.

Grand Rapids Business Journal reports on the annual Robert Wood Johnson Foundation/University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute study comparing regions of Michigan, as well as regions of the country, for an overview of several areas of health indicators. Ottawa County topped counties in the state for health outcomes, joined by Kent County at No. 17 and Allegan County at No. 13 as West Michigan counties ranked in the top 20. Muskegon County ranks 68th of Michigan’s 83 counties.

A great deal of this study has been influenced by a decade of work by the Grand Rapids African American Health Institute. Tremendous strides have been made to improve the health equity index for child mortality, breast cancer and obesity, among others. GRAAHI has helped answer the issues related to access to health care and health education and information.

The recently released Michigan Association of United Ways study, however, gives one pause. The findings show 40 percent of Michigan households do not have sufficient income to pay for the necessities: housing, child care, food, health care and transportation. In the metro Grand Rapids area, 38 percent of Kent County households can’t pay for those basics. The rate in Ottawa and Kalamazoo counties is 36 percent; in Muskegon County, 40 percent of its households are unable to pay for basics. These factors threaten to disrupt the progress and regional economic stability.

Add to this very real concern: Last fall’s West Michigan Health Care Economic Forecast showed hospital expenses rose 108 percent over the past 10 years, 78 percent faster than cities of similar size and in Detroit. Grand Valley State University/Seidman College of Business released a study that showed the causes and effects of health care costs, competition, drug costs and the general health of regional residents.

The report reverses decades of cost containment in the greater Grand Rapids area, which held top rank not only in Michigan but across the country.

While the county study offers encouragement for the health-related initiatives in this community, it is obvious new and renewed efforts are necessary to prevent expensive losses in the immediate future.

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