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Pierce County improves in 2015 county health rankings

March 25, 2015

Nearing middle at 21 out of 39 counties, but significant work ahead to improve health for all

TACOMA, Wash. – Pierce County saw an improvement in its 2015 County Health Rankings over last year. At 21 out of 39 counties in the state, the area moved up four spots in the annual ranking. The county moved up from 25 in 2014 and from 26 in 2013. The rankings show a health outcomes rank of 21 and a health factors ranking of 25.

It’s the first time the county has improved by more than one spot since the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation began the annual review that addresses how long people live and how healthy people feel while alive, as well as health behaviors, clinical care, social and economic and physical environment factors.

“We are encouraged to see a modest increase in our health outcomes,” said Director of Health, Anthony L-T Chen, MD, MPH. “But we know we have a long way to go in Pierce County to ensure that all of our residents can experience good health outcomes, regardless of where they live, learn, work or play.”

The county fared worse than the state in the following health areas:

  • Premature deaths
  • Poor physical health days
  • Smoking among adults
  • Teen births
  • Preventable hospital stays
  • Mammography screening
  • Children in single parent households
  • Driving alone to work
  • Long commute - driving home

Consistent with 2014, Pierce County’s lowest ranking of 28 was in the health behaviors category, which accounts for smoking rates, adult obesity, access to exercise opportunities, a food environment index and sexually-transmitted infections. For example, the county had the highest rate of chlamydia infections in the state as of the 2013 national data. It also scored lowest (28) in the physical environment category, which encompass housing problems, driving alone to work and long commute.

The county also decreased its health factors rank from 22 in 2014 to 25 in 2015. Social and economic factors that affect health outcomes, and concerns already identified in the Community Health Status Assessment, include the high school graduation rate, ratio of primary care, dentists and mental health providers and violent crime rate. Social factors come into play when considering health inequities—the underlying conditions that influence our health outcomes.

While it’s valuable to track the county’s progress through various rankings, focusing on improving known long-term community health problems is a more productive focus for community partners and residents who are interested in health improvements, according to Chen.

“The County Health Rankings are one of several important sets of indicators that rank our county’s performance concerning health outcomes,” he said. “Each indicator set reinforces important information, but we already know we need to make improvements in Pierce County’s health. We and our many community partners collaborate on efforts such as the Community Health Improvement Plan, health system transformation and health equity to improve health outcomes—and the underlying factors that influence them—for all residents,” said Chen.

Pierce County’s Community Health Improvement Plan is a long-term collaborative strategy to address major community health problems. Completed in 2014 in partnership with CHI Franciscan Health, MultiCare Health System, Group Health and University of Washington-Tacoma, it provides valuable information on the county’s top health priorities in order to address them as effectively as possible. Community partners can use the information for their strategic planning, budget preparation, collaboration, grant writing and other efforts. It’s available at

Health system transformation encompasses the work of a diverse group of partners to improve residents’ health and their health care experience. The group recently received a planning grant from the Department of Health to set the stage to become an Accountable Community of Health.

Finally, the Health Department renewed its health equity efforts late last year to remove barriers to good health so that everyone has equal opportunities to be healthy, wherever they live, learn, work or play.

The County Health Rankings measure the health of nearly every county in the nation. Published online at, the rankings help counties understand what influences how healthy residents are and how long they will live. The rankings look at a variety of measures that affect health, such as high school graduation rates, access to healthy foods, rates of smoking, obesity, and teen births. The rankings are unique in their ability to measure the overall health of each county in all 50 states. The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is the largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care in the United States. Learn more at

About Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department: Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department’s mission is to safeguard and enhance the health of the communities of Pierce County. As part of its mission, the Health Department tackles known and emerging health risks through policy, programs and treatment in order to protect public health. Learn more at

Edie Jeffers, Communications Manager
(253) 798-2853, (253) 405-6822 (cell/text),

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