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Barton County getting healthier
But, health officials say much work remains to be done
new deh barton county commission health rankings  logo

In other business Monday morning, the Barton County Commission:

• Approved the appointment of City of Great Bend assistant sanitarian Thomas Holmes to be a representative of the city on the Solid Waste Planning Committee. Per Kansas statutes, Barton County is required to maintain a Solid Waste Planning Committee to develop and perform an annual review of the Solid Waste Management Plan, which is then approved by the commission. This committee is comprised of representatives of cities, counties and private industry served by the Barton County Landfill. Greg Vannoster has resigned from employment with the city and it was suggested that Holmes be appointed to fill the remainder of the term, said Solid Waste Director Phil Hathcock. 

The uncompensated term ends in February 2017. 

• Approved the purchase of a Dodge Ram 2500 truck from Marmies at a cost of $25,914 for the Barton County Landfill. The Solid Waste Department operates a 1999 Ford F550 that has experienced an engine failure. With the engine replacement quoted at over $11,000, Hathcock requested bids for a replacement vehicle. This would have been the second engine installed in the vehicle. Specifications included (at a minimum) a half ton four wheel drive truck. Marmies provided the low bid.

 Barton County rose to the 73rd spot in the 2016 county health rankings released last week by the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation. This is a jump from 2015 when it fell in at 86th. 

“We have improved, not leaps and bounds, but we are making our way in the right direction,” Health Director Shelly Schneider told the Barton County Commission Monday morning. “The good news is we are becoming a healthier Barton County. There’s a lot of things we need to improve on, but there’s a lot of things we’re going good now.”

The County Health Rankings and Roadmaps program helps communities identify and implement solutions that make it easier for people to be healthy in their homes, schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods, Schneider said. This marks the seventh year that the RWJF has collaborated with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute to bring this program to the public.  

Johnson County ranks healthiest in Kansas and Wyandotte County, which shares a border with Johnson County, is the least healthy in the state, according to the study, The rankings are available at

“Basically what Robert Woods Johnson tells us what we know and what we can do,” she said. “It is a view of what we can do better.”

In 2014, Barton County was ranked 68th, which was about normal for the county. But it tumbled to 86th in 2015 and “that was a kick in the teeth,” Schneider said.

But the efforts to combat such problems as smoking, teen pregnancy and obesity are starting to bear fruit, she said.

Improvements have been made in access to exercise, thanks to the efforts of the Be Well Barton County coalition and bike sharrows applied by the county. “These have really helped us go from 86 to 73,” Schneider said.

There have also been a lot of collaborations developed over 2015, including law enforcement and other agencies that have helped decreased  violent crime and sexual abuse. This trend needs to continue.

“We need more collaborations,” she said. “Everyone needs to get involved. People out on the streets that have a passion for something need to step up and to make a difference.

“That’s what’s going to take us from 73 into the 60s next year,” Schneider said. “I think we need to make jumps by 10s to get where we want to be as a county.”

There are concerns

“The worst part for Barton County is our premature deaths,” Schneider said. This tracks those who die under the age of 75.

If someone dies at 50, it is considered to be 25 years of life lost. The state average is 6,800, the Barton County number is 8,800.

This statistic is weighted heavily in the rankings, thus bringing Barton County’s ranking down even further. “We obviously need to improve our rates.”

In 2014, there were 287 deaths in Barton County, three of which were infants. In Kansas, there were 1,975 deaths, 1,366 were unintentional, 454 were suicide and 105 homicide, with the balance from other causes.

“As a whole, Kansas is seeing a decrease in death rate with efforts to reduce heart disease, stroke and respiratory disease,” she said. However, there is still an upward trend with these illnesses as well as with cancer.

And, while over 80 percent of expectant mothers said they received good or better prenatal care, 19.5 percent of them were smoking while pregnant. “I was a little rattled by that,” she said.

The Health Department has many successful programs in place to combat smoking, but more needs to be done. “We have to ramp up our efforts,” she said.

In summary, “we’re still needing to work on adult smoking, adult obesity, our teen births, the uninsured population and injury deaths,” she said. Among the improvements were violent crime rates.

Sadly, Kansas ranked 47th of the 50 states in terms of females getting the human papilloma virus vaccine and 46th overall for adolescent immunizations. “We have a lot of work to do.”

There were 340 live births in Barton County in 2014. Of those, 113 went full term and 169 were out of wedlock. 

While needing to be improved, Schneider said these numbers were better than she was expecting. “The teen pregnancy rate is decreasing, evidence that state grant-funded work is helping.”

Abortion rates are also declining.

There is another disturbing trend – in Kansas in the past two years public health spending has gone from $51 to $44 per person, 14 percent decrease. “We have a sicker society and we are doing a lot more with a lot less money,” Schneider said.