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Louisiana’s senior health near bottom in new ranking

By Kimberly Hopson
L’Observateur

LAPLACE – Louisiana recently ranked 48th in the nation for senior health, according to the inaugural edition of United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings Senior Report.
The report examines the health challenges affecting today’s seniors and encourages the nation and local communities to find ways to improve. According to the report, Americans are living longer but sicker lives. The senior population in the country is poised to grow more than 50 percent between 2015 and 2030, making senior health a timely and critical national issue.
“I’m disappointed because I know myself and my colleagues in this field work very hard at trying to affect the health of the seniors in a positive way,” said Felix Burch, administrator of Twin Oaks Nursing Home in LaPlace, about the rating.
“I feel that they (the American Health Rankings Senior Report) have a good continuum of care. We could use more assisted living facilities in St. John Parish,” he continued.
The America’s Health Rankings Senior Report assesses state-level performance on 34 different elements, including both health determinants and health outcomes. The report finds that Louisiana has its share of strengths and challenges for senior health.
High rates of flu vaccination, availability of home health care workers and low prevalence of falls were among the listed strengths for the state. Among the challenges were obesity, low levels of physical activity, high prevalence of smoking and high levels of seniors living in poverty. According to the report, Minnesota leads the nation in senior health resources, followed by Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Iowa. Mississippi ranks 50th, preceded by Oklahoma, Louisiana, West Virginia and Arkansas.
“I think that the challenges show, if they’re accurate, that it’s really more about the lifestyle we live here, not the health care available to seniors. We have the best food in the world, and we enjoy it,” said Burch. “Because of that, too many of us are overweight. When you get to be elderly, that takes much more of an effect on your body. We see a lot of diabetics here. We in the health care business need to continually lead in getting people to rethink how much they’re eating and how much they weigh.”
“United Health Foundation’s America’s Health Rankings Senior Report is a highly valuable tool to help gain a greater understanding of the health challenges faced by Louisiana’s seniors,” said Dr. Penny S. Walker, Sr. medical director for United Healthcare in Louisiana. “Louisiana’s growing senior population points to the urgency of identifying key opportunities for improving senior health and pursuing effective solutions at the national, state, community and family levels.”
Older Americans are experiencing troubling rates of chronic health conditions, according to the report. About 80 percent of seniors are living with at least one chronic health condition, while 50 percent of seniors have two or more chronic health conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, the report finds that more than 25 percent of seniors nationwide are obese.
“Chronic illness is unnecessarily high among seniors,” said Rhonda Randall, D.O., senior advisor to United Health Foundation and chief medical officer, United Healthcare Medicare & Retirement. “The coordination of care for seniors, particularly the 50 percent of the population with multiple chronic illnesses, is complex and increases pressure on our country’s caregivers and our health care system.”
The America’s Health Rankings Senior Report can be viewed and downloaded at www.americashealthrankings.org.