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Cass officials react to last-place ranking in health survey

Cass County officials Friday listed a wide variety of health initiatives that are being undertaken as they addressed the county’s last-place ranking among Minnesota counties in the 2013 County Health Rankings.

Jeri Seegmiller, a public health nurse who is the county team lead-Preventive Services for the Cass County Health, Human and Veterans Services, said the county’s overall high poverty rate is one challenge that might be related to the ranking.

“In addition, we are a very large and rural county with additional barriers in transportation, chemical abuse and unemployment,” she said in a state-

ment. “Many of these challenges we have little control over but adversely affect individual as well as community health.”

The study was released Wednesday by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The detailed County Health Rankings are available at

Cass County ranked last in health outcomes and 84th out of 87 counties in health factors, according to the report.

The healthy behaviors health factor ranked Cass County as 71st out of 87 counties which carries a 30 percent weight and clinical care health factor ranked Cass County as 78/87 which carries a weight of 20 percent of the overall health factors ranking improvement to 84/87 for Cass County.

Cass County health officials said the report ranks both health outcomes and health factors to highlight the wide array of issues that determine health in local communities. Health outcomes include the rate of people dying before age 75, the percentage of people who report being in fair or poor health and the rate of low-birth weight infants. Health factors include health behavior, clinical care, social and economic factors and physical environment.

Cass County Health, Human and Veterans Services- Public Health Division officials said they will continue to use the County Health Rankings in conjunction with various statistical data available to help reevaluate and set priorities for planning of public health activities.

Cass health officials said their agency has worked toward improving health rankings through many services and programs.

“Many of our initiatives involve collaborations with various communities, worksites, schools and community organizations,” she said Friday in a statement. “With the addition of our community health specialist we are ramping up those collaboration efforts. Change takes time and we strongly believe that continued and ongoing efforts will indeed produce a positive change in our rankings.”

In Minnesota and nationally, the two largest causes of chronic disease and premature death are obesity, caused by poor nutrition and insufficient physical activity, and tobacco use, county officials reported. These factors are the target of evidence-based interventions of the SHIP (State Health Improvement Program) grant. SHIP assists worksites to develop health policies that support healthy behavior for their employees.

Throughout Cass County, community obesity prevention efforts included seven restaurants implementing or updating healthier choice menu options and policies. In Cass County, all five school districts have implemented additional physical activity opportunities for students and one school district implemented access to healthy after-school snack cart in efforts to prevent obesity.

In 2012, SHIP 2.0 Cass County is working with Morrison-Todd-Wadena County Community Health Board to continue efforts to improve the health of Cass communities. Cass County was awarded a Community Transformation Grant through the Minnesota Department of Health to help reduce disease by implementing best-practice strategies to tackle the leading causes of chronic disease and premature death. Cass County schools have been awarded Health4Life mini-grants to help increase physical activity and access to healthier foods within their district.

Other public health efforts towards improving the communities health are in WIC (Women Infant and Children) clinics that focus on nutrition education and providing healthy food for mothers and children to promote overall good health. In 2012 Cass County was selected by the Minnesota Department of Health Family Home Visiting Program to receive the Maternal, Infant and Early Childhood Home Visiting Expansion Grant for Family Home Visiting for new mothers. Prenatal visits provide education toward prevention of low-birth weight babies and healthy pregnancies. The Family Planning Program focuses on high risk groups including women under age 20 years, uninsured and underinsured, and low income women of reproductive age. The goal is to prevent unintended pregnancy and negative health factors such as sexually transmitted infections, and to decrease the rate of teen pregnancy. Car seat education and car seats for young children are provided to increase safety and prevention of motor vehicle deaths. Tobacco compliance checks are performed annually to tobacco licensed vendors throughout Cass County to assure and prevent selling tobacco products to under-age youth.

MIKE O’ROURKE, associate editor, may be reached at 855-5860 or He may be followed at

Mike O'Rourke
Mike O'Rourke began his career at the Brainerd Dispatch in 1978 as a general assignment reporter. He was named city editor in 1981 and associate editor in 1999. He covers politics and writes features and editorials.
(218) 855-5860