May 23, 2019


A new report presents a shockingly dismal picture of the health conditions in Washington County. Consider these highlights of the Community Health Status Report released by the Mane Center of Disease Control and Prevention:

Highest overall cancer incidence and death rate in the state, with the death rate increasing while decreasing statewide. Highest cardiovascular disease death rate in the state. High blood pressure rates and high cholesterol rates are highest in the state. Increasing rate of diabetes, above the state average and rising faster than the state rate.

Second-highest adult asthma rate in the state. Highest motor vehicle death rate in the state. Adult depression symptoms and suicide deaths higher than the state average. Substance abuse admissions increased almost 150 percent in the past 10 years.

Poor ratings, compared to peer counties around the country, in death rates due to breast, colon, and lung cancer as well as stroke. Adult smoking rates highest in the state, with teen smoking rates among the highest. Adult overweight and obesity rates highest in the state. Highest proportion of people reporting fair or poor health status.

Still, there are some relative bright spots. Breast cancer incidence rates are below the state average and mammogram rates are higher, although death rates are the highest in the state. Police reports of domestic assaults are below the state average, and reported rapes are only about average.

Adolescent alcohol use, binge drinking and prescription drug abuse are about average, although adult binge drinking is up a bit.

The county compares favorably with peer counties on infant mortality, low birth weight, premature births, teen births and early prenatal care, although births to unmarried women are relatively high.

Some of the various ailments clearly stem from smoking, alcohol and drug abuse and obesity, but the general economic depression in the county is also a factor. Dr. Dora Anne Mills rightly stressed the complexity of the health status problem there. She told the Bangor Daily News that she thought of health status as “just one of several threads in a blanket – along with education, economic development, infrastructure (such as transportation and access to the Internet), the built environment and the natural environment.”

Health care leaders and other community figures discussed the county’s problems at a recent meeting in Machias and stressed their intertwining nature, she said.

The survey and regular future surveys by the CDC should help efforts to improve access to preventive and treatment centers and increase the enrollment of eligible county residents in MaineCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

That, in turn, will slowly help the county’s economy. But, without a big push from the state, progressive will remain too slow or worse, elusive.

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