Franklin County rises to sixth among 14 counties in annual Health Rankings Report

  • Courtesy photo/Creative Commons Courtesy photo/Creative Commons

Staff Writer
Published: 5/16/2021 4:00:34 PM

Franklin Regional Council of Governments (FRCOG) Director of Community Services Phoebe Walker and others hope the 2021 Health Rankings Report the agency recently presented, showing the rise of some unhealthy behaviors and the fall of others, will spur discussion and collaboration to keep the county moving in the right direction when it comes to health and health equity.

The report shows that while adult smoking, obesity, excessive drinking, sleep deprivation, drug overdose deaths and physical inactivity increased over the period examined, other things like access to exercise opportunities, drunk-driving deaths, sexually transmitted diseases and teen births decreased. When considering the health factors and health outcomes, Walker said Franklin County rose to sixth among the 14 counties in the report as compared to 10th of 14 in 2018, which is good news.

The Health Rankings Report was presented and discussed during a recent virtual meeting, which involved not only presentations from FRCOG and social service agencies, but also members of Franklin County’s legislative delegation.

Walker said although the data isn’t complete, there is enough to see what requires attention. She said FRCOG is not going to compare the county to other counties, but will rather focus on what’s good and what needs improvement for a healthier county.

“There are limitations to the data, which was collected pre-COVID,” Walker said. “There’s a lot of cool and interesting data that didn’t get included in this report.”

The Health Rankings Report looks at the relationships between health factors and health outcomes, considering how they impact how well and how long people live. It also considers local, state and federal policies and programs and what role they play.

Furthermore, the report looked at some things that can be done to improve county residents’ health even more, including increasing the use of parks and trails, organizing open-street events, increasing shared-use agreements for public recreation access and expanding mobile food markets.

“These are great for moving forward,” Walker said.

State Sen. Jo Comerford, Rep. Natalie Blais and a representative from Rep. Susannah Whipps’ office talked about legislation they are working on to help improve people’s mental and physical well-being.

Comerford, D-Northampton, talked about bills to expand special education and de-link MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System) testing from students receiving a diploma, while Blais, D-Sunderland, discussed doing a deep dive into school enrollment and how it impacts communities, looking at the digital divide across the state, expanding regional transportation and ensuring transportation equity.

Whipps, I-Athol, is working on legislation and policies that would bring proper nutrition to those living in poverty. She has co-sponsored a bill to permanently fund the Healthy Incentives Program (HIP), which doubles Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients’ benefits, and has asked a commission be formed to study childhood hunger as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Community Action Pioneer Valley Senior Planning and Resource Development Associate Ann Darling said wages and employment continue to be factors in health in Franklin County. She said wages continue to be low while the cost of living in the county is high.

“That hasn’t changed,” she said. “Some people are barely able to pay their bills — about 40 percent.”

The good news, Darling said, is that graduation rates are on par with the state and better than the national average. Ninety-three percent of county residents have a high school diploma and 69 percent have had some college education. She said high school graduation rates are going up for all groups, but not as quickly for people of color.

Everyone agreed that the 12 percent poverty rate for children is too high — it was decreasing before the pandemic hit — and that the county needs to continue to improve education, employment opportunities, income, family support and community safety, which are all factors of health.


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