Multnomah County lands mostly in the middle for health

March 17, 2016

Multnomah County ranked 14th among 36 counties in Oregon in the 2016 County Health Rankings, a set of reports published Tuesday by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

The report shows how counties compare to other counties in their states in overall health, and how they stack up in performance on specific health factors against national benchmarks of top-performing counties. Multnomah County consistently ranks in the middle of the nation and state on many measures.

Multnomah County ranks higher in the ratio of primary care providers and mental health providers to people. And 99 percent of residents have access to exercise opportunities, one of the highest nationwide. The county ranks better in the rates of adults with obesity and preventable hospital stays.

However, Oregon's most populous county is the bottom 50 percent statewide for physical environment and quality of life. Multnomah County ranks poorly in the number of newly diagnosed chlamydia cases per 100,000. The county has higher numbers of violent crimes per 100,000 residents and trends are worsening for air pollution, particulate matter, high school graduation rates, and children in poverty.

Addressing public health threats before they lead to acute injuries, communicable disease outbreaks, or chronic diseases-- and addressing well-documented health inequities will improve lifespans and lower health costs, says Tricia Tillman, director of public health. 

“We’ve made progress, but we know our county still faces challenges. We’re working with the state and local partners to invest in a public health system that can handle increasing known and new health threats.  We know prevention makes the critical difference.”

The annual survey is not a report card on local health departments. However, public health works with community members, housing agencies, transportation and public parks to create environments where county residents have the opportunity to achieve the best possible level of health. This includes ensuring access to fresh food, stable housing and safe places to play, which are cornerstones of health whether a person is young, old, in the middle of life and to support one’s cultural strengths.

Tillman is hopeful the state of Oregon’s efforts to boost investment to modernize Oregon’s public health system will reverse the more alarming trends.

“The rankings show we have to work together not just on health, but on the aspects of our society that drive health outcomes - including education, employment and safe and healthy homes and environments for families,’’ Tillman says. “Prevention saves dollars - and lives.”