The Journal Gazette
Thursday, December 03, 2015 12:00 am

Area leads state in health care index

Sherry Slater | The Journal Gazette

Northeast Indiana residents are doing relatively well in health, education and living standards compared with other Hoosiers, a study released last week says. 

One of the report’s details stands out: Fort Wayne’s metropolitan statistical area posted the highest health index rating of the state’s 16 MSAs. 

The local MSA, which ranked fifth overall, comprises Allen, Wells and Whitley counties. Its composite score was bested by South Bend-Mishawaka, Evansville, Columbus and Lafayette, in that order. Indianapolis placed sixth.

Dr. Deborah McMahan, Allen County’s health commissioner, was pleased by the ranking but wasn’t surprised. Allen County consistently does relatively well on annual health ratings calculated by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Princeton, New Jersey-based nonprofit looks at available health care providers and professional training programs, among other factors. 

"I think we have good access to strong health care resources," McMahan said.

Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research measured how Indiana residents are doing in three areas: health, education and standard of living. Researchers then compared those results to population changes in each county and found that communities that rate highly on the well-being index also tend to show more population growth than areas with lower rankings.

Northeast Indiana counties grabbed six of the state’s top 20 places based on data from last year. That fact might sound impressive – until it’s put in perspective. 

Indiana notched a dismal national ranking of 39th among 50 states in an overall well-being measurement. That places the region near the top of the bottom of the heap.

Taking an even wider view, the U.S. placed fifth internationally, meaning that Indiana’s worst well-being standards are better than what many others in the world endure.

The researchers used a variation of the Human Development Index, a multi-?dimensional measure that goes beyond gross domestic product or per capita income statistics.

Michael Hicks, director of Ball State’s Center for Business and Economic Research and one of the report’s co-authors, said results varied significantly from one Indiana county to another.

Allen County placed highest from the region, ranking sixth in the state in the variation of the index used by the United Nations Development Program to compare well-?­being among countries. 

The Human Development Index was created to measure how well an area is doing based on more than just economic productivity. It takes into account residents’ well-being by looking at their health, education and income or standard of living.

In the classic model, health is measured by life expectancy at birth; education is gauged by adult literacy rate; and income is derived by taking gross domestic product and adjusting it for purchasing power parity.

The Ball State researchers tweaked the measures to create a more nuanced picture, choosing to rely on two statistics for each category.

Ellen Cutter, director of the Community Research Institute at IPFW, reviewed the study’s final report and endorsed using the alternative criteria for measuring the economy.

"To me, it seems like a more holistic approach to looking at our competitiveness," she said.  

In the health category, the research team factored in years of potential life lost to premature death. 

In education, it used two alternative measures: percentage of the population enrolled in high school or more and percentage of the population with a high school degree or more. In living standards, it used per capita income and average monthly earnings to rank Indiana’s counties.

The indicators are converted to a scale of zero to 100, with the top-ranked county receiving a 100 and the bottom-ranked county a zero. 

The study found that communities with major research universities – including Indiana University, Purdue University and the University of Notre Dame – received the highest education rankings. Big cities scored higher in the health and income rankings than rural areas. 

Although most of northeast Indiana fared fairly well in the rankings, LaGrange finished last in the list of 92 counties. 

LaGrange’s large Amish population negatively affected the education and income measures because many Amish are farmers or builders who don’t enroll their children in public high schools, the researchers said.

However, Amish residents might have helped boost the Fort Wayne MSA’s health score, Hicks said. 

Despite the local MSA’s health score being higher than others around the state, it was only slightly above average when compared with the healthiest individual counties. Hicks explained that most MSAs include inner city and rural poor populations, which bring down the overall health score.

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