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Report: St. Johns County Healthiest In Florida; Duval Improves

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For the fourth year in a row, St. Johns County was ranked the healthiest county in Florida, according to a new report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and University of Wisconsin. Other counties in the region face challenges to keeping residents healthy.

Northeast Florida’s Union County was ranked the state’s least-healthy, while nearby Duval County moved up two spots to 43rd in the state.

"We’re making slow, steady progress," said Duval County Health Department Director Dr. Kelli Wells.

Wells says the detailed data in the report give the agency a fuller picture of public health. Duval has high STD and violent-crime rates, and lower-than average high-school graduation rates, for example. Wells says access to care and medicine are also factors, as are access "to appropriate shelter and healthy food."

That understanding is not lost on Mary Garcia, administrator of the health department in Putnam County — one of the poorest counties in the state and 65 out of 67 in the health ranking.

"Poverty or affluence in each community, education, graduation from high school, transportation is a factor, public safety, and communication," Garcia said. "Every day we have to strive to make progress and everyday we know that there is no finish line for our efforts for better health."

Putnam County ranked the same this year as last. But the county has created workgroups to improve public health and transportation access.

The data will be used by each of Florida’s 67 counties to create their own community health improvement plans.

Peter Haden is an award-winning investigative reporter and photographer currently working with The Center for Investigative Reporting. His stories are featured in media outlets around the world including NPR, CNN en Español, ECTV Ukraine, USA Today, Qatar Gulf Times, and the Malaysia Star.