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Report: Duval Residents' Health Dips As Surrounding Counties Fare Better

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Duval County’s overall health outcomes have deteriorated over the last year. That’s according to a new national survey of county health care.

But some factors included in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation report may be out of the health departments’ hands.

The foundation’s County Health Rankings & Roadmaps uses national Centers for Disease Control data to pinpoint the areas individual counties should work on to create more positive health outcomes.

In Duval, a high rate of uninsured people, obesity, childhood poverty and air pollution sank its overall outcome rating by seven points.

Dr. Kelli Wells is the Director of Duval County’s health department.

“The good news is most of these things are on our radar in terms of how we’ve been crafting our intervention,” Wells says.

She says some things are out of her department's control—like the rate of uninsured people. Florida’s political leaders have opted out of expanding Medicaid, leaving less affluent counties like Duval with uninsured rates in the double digits.

Florida’s health departments are also working with a shoe-string budget and a shrinking workforce. More than 700 health department jobs have been cut since Gov. Rick Scott took office, as first reported by Politico Florida.

Yet Jan O’Neal, a researcher with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, says there are some things local communities can do to circumvent the political process.

“If in your community you know you’re going to have a high number of folks without health insurance, what can be done between businesses and, perhaps, faith organizations and others and nonprofits to provide a federally qualified health center?” O’Neal asks.

Duval County Health Department Director Dr. Kelli Wells says that’s exactly what the department is doing: creating community partnerships to fill in some of the outcome gaps. Wells also says she’ll be looking at some of Duval’s neighbors, like St. Johns County, which is No. 1 in the state. 

Ryan Benk is a former WJCT News reporter who joined the station in 2015 after working as a news researcher and reporter for NPR affiliate WFSU in Tallahassee.