The 2016 County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, presented by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, listed several Northern Virginia localities highest among the state in health outcomes.
Falls Church City and Fairfax County were among the municipalities that ranked highest in the overall rankings, with Falls Church City ranking eighth in health outcomes and first in health factors and Fairfax County ranking second in health outcomes and third in health factors.
Falls Church City contracts out its health services to Fairfax County, so the News-Press spoke with Sharon Arndt, the director of the Fairfax County Health Department’s Community Health & Preparedness division, about the Falls Church and Fairfax County’s performance in the rankings.
“Our high ranking reflects the priority Fairfax County and Falls Church City have placed on influencing the factors that affect residents’ health, and it also shows how important it will be for us to sustain those programs if we want to stay healthy. Our community values policies that improve overall quality of life for all residents and supports positive living for older adults,” Arndt said.
“Our strong ranking for health factors is reflective of the investments made by many community partners to ensure quality education; increased opportunities for active living – such as investments in open space and expansion of bicycling infrastructure; tobacco free living policies for playgrounds and athletic fields; and ensuring a safe community.”
Despite Fairfax County and Falls Church City’s high rankings in the County Health Rankings & Roadmap report, Arndt said that the health department recognizes “that more work needs to be done to ensure all individuals within our community live in an environment that supports good health and well-being.”
Supporting and encouraging healthy behaviors for Falls Church City and Fairfax County residents is a priority for the health department, Arndt said, but that task is something that the entire community is responsible for.
“Health is everyone’s responsibility,” Arndt said. “While the Fairfax County Health Department provides programs and resources such as tobacco use control resources, guidance for maternal and child health nutrition, and communicable disease education and free sexually transmitted disease testing; there are many other Fairfax County agencies and community resources that support healthy behaviors.”
There are several other categories in the rankings report in which Fairfax County and Falls Church City rank high compared to the rest of Virginia, including clinical care, length of life and quality of life. Fairfax County, which has Inova Fairfax Hospital centers and the Reston Hospital Center, was the 13th in clinical care in the state. Falls Church City, which has no public medical facilities, but has a low rate of uninsured residents, is ranked first in clinical care in the state.
In terms of length of life and quality of life, Fairfax County has an entire bureau of the Department of Family Services, Services for Older Adults, dedicated to the care of its older residents.
Those services are also available to Falls Church City residents as part of the City’s health services contract with Fairfax County. Falls Church City has the Sunrise assisted living facility, which is privately owned, and the incoming Chesterbrook Residences, which will also be privately owned, for seniors.
One area where Fairfax County ranked noticeably lower than other areas of assessment was physical environment, where it ranked 28th in the state. Falls Church City ranked fifth in the state in terms of physical environment.
Fairfax County, a sprawling county with a large population, has many residents who drive to work. Despite being under the state average for the percentage of residents who drive alone to work, Fairfax County’s percentage of drivers who drive alone for more than 30 minutes is 12 percent higher than the state.
Arndt said that among other things, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation finished developing the Fairfax County Bicycle Master Plan in 2014 to “reduce excessive reliance upon the automobile.”
One measure in which Falls Church City is worsening, according to the report, is newly diagnosed cases of chlamydia.
Last year, while the state averaged 407 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people per municipality, Falls Church City had 536.7 per 100,000 people (scaled to compare with larger populations). Although Fairfax County has remarkably lower rates of chlamydia (182.3 per 100,000 people), the county is worsening in that measure, according to the rankings report.
John Silcox, communications director for the Fairfax County Health Department, said that Fairfax County offers free testing and treatment of sexually transmitted infections to residents of the county and Falls Church City.
Arndt said that Fairfax County has also been doing outreach and education through faith communities in the county about chronic sexually transmitted infections like HIV.
Because the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps report assess the wholistic health of a community’s residents, it often measures the health of the community as it relates to areas not regulated or served by the Fairfax County Health Department.
So in order to integrate the mission of health departments nationwide, health workers have been promoting the ideas of health in all policies. One example that Arndt offered was how the Fairfax County Health Department partnered with the Department of Transportation to conduct a health assessment of the proposed Richmond Highway Transit Center.
Through the partnership, the health department evaluated how the transit center would improve active transportation for residents within a half mile of the proposed sites, improve access to healthy food optionsa and address pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular safety, among other things.
“The Fairfax County Health Department actively engages numerous and varied partners across our public health system to encourage their efforts to improve health – this ‘health in all policies’ approach is most successful when non-traditional health partners…implement small actions and policies that collectively lead to improved health behaviors,” Arndt said.