Local health ranking drops: Teen birth rate, Chlamydia on the rise

Malheur County Health Department Director Sarah Poe is shown in her office in Ontario. Poe has been in her new position just a few weeks.

ONTARIO — There are some good things happening in Malheur County in regards to health outcomes, but the county still ranks low among other counties across Oregon in an annual report which was released this month.

According to County Health Rankings, published by the Robert Wood Foundation, and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, Malheur county ranked 32nd, out of 35 Oregon counties that participated. That figure was down five places from 2018’s ranking of 27, Sarah Poe, Malheur County Health Department director, said.

The number of teens, ages 15 to 19, giving birth per 1,000 births was 46 in Malheur County, compared to an average of 20 in Oregon, Poe said, while the child poverty rate is 30 percent.

Rankings are determined on factors in four categories that affect people’s health – “health behavior; clinical care; social and economic factors; and physical environment,” according to Poe in her news release.

Among the teen birth rate, other health factors considered include obesity, excessive drinking, the number of uninsured adults, numbers of primary care physicians serving the county, high school graduation rates, childhood poverty, community safety, access to healthy foods and air pollution levels, reads the release.

“Having good health care is important, but much of what affects our health occurs outside of the doctor’s office,” Poe said in a statement.

The rankings do show the number of uninsured people in the county has dropped from 12 percent to 10 percent, and alcohol-impaired driving deaths and violent crime is down. However, the obesity rate has increased from 29 percent to 32 percent, Poe said, adding that the latter is an issue of have proper nutrition education and access,

Another problem the health department is seeing is an increase in chlamydia, she said.

“It’s preventable and treatable,” Poe said. “We need people to be screened. A lot of people know they are infected.”

Many of the department’s services are free, Poe said, adding that the health department has 15 categories of services.

“Cost should not be prohibitive,” Poe said. “We need to be busier than we are. It’s public health for everyone.”

“We provide STI testing and treatment, family planning and tobacco prevention resources, which specifically target these areas of concern highlighted in the report,” Poe’s release reads.

“We are here for all ages and stages, from support for healthy pregnancies and babies to birth control and flu shots. We plan to serve more people in the next year and hope everyone will think of the Malheur County Health Department for low- or no-cost public health services.”

Larry Meyer is a reporter for the Argus Observer.

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