Fifth sickest locality

Published 11:33 am Wednesday, April 4, 2012

FRANKLIN—Franklin is one of the least healthy localities in Virginia, according to a study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Franklin ranks 127th out of 131 Virginia cities and counties in health outcomes, which can be attributed to the city’s high unemployment and poverty rates, said Dr. Nancy Welch, director of the Western Tidewater Health District.

Franklin’s unemployment rate is 11.9 percent, which is higher than the state average of 6.9 percent and also higher than neighboring localities Southampton County at 9.6 percent and Isle of Wight County at 7.1 percent.

In addition, 33 percent of Franklin’s children are living in poverty, compared to the state average of 15 percent and Southampton’s 20 percent and Isle of Wight’s 12 percent.

Welch said the higher unemployment and poverty rates in Franklin make it less likely that residents get proper checkups from a primary-care physician or get proper medication.

“They may hesitate going to a physician and may go to the emergency room instead, and the emergency room is not meant to take the place of a primary-care physician,” Welch said. “It’s very difficult for an ER physician to step into that role, and it’s difficult for a patient to contemplate what they need to do without the physician-patient relationship.”

There are two programs funded through grants from Franklin-Southampton Charities that are aimed at improving these rankings, Welch said.

One is a prescription assistance program called Pharmacy Connection that provides free medications to patients below certain income levels. Another program helps screen for diabetes in the area residents, Welch said.

The same study that ranks Franklin fifth lowest in the state ranks Southampton County 76th out of 131 localities in health outcomes, while Isle of Wight ranks 43rd.

Franklin ranks 129th in premature deaths, while Southampton ranks 89th and Isle of Wight ranks 48th.

Franklin also has a high number of smokers at 22 percent, which is 3 percentage points higher than the state average and will contribute to future health rankings, said Jeff Lake, Virginia Department of Health deputy commissioner of community health services.

In addition, 32 percent of Franklin residents are considered obese, which is 4 percentage points higher than the state average, Lake said.

“What we hope will occur is this will be used for community leaders to come together and think about what can be done to influence these factors,” Lake said. “These are measures we can look at to make changes in the future.”

Southampton is at 29 percent adult obesity and 24 percent are smokers. In Isle of Wight, 15 percent of adults are smokers and 31 percent are obese.

Welch said obesity is a contributing factor to diabetes, which affects many in the Western Tidewater area.

She said the good news is Type II diabetes is treatable with diet and exercise and can easily be controlled.

Franklin leads both Isle of Wight and Southampton in the ratio of patients to primary care physicians in a locality at 384 to 1, compared to 6,194 to 1 in Southampton and 1,317 to 1 in Isle of Wight.

Petersburg, Emporia, Buchanan County and Dickinson County join Franklin as the five localities whose citizens are in the poorest health. Fairfax County, Arlington, Loudon and Albemarle counties are the healthiest localities in the state.