The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation ranked Laurel County #60 of 120 in its 2020 County Health Rankings and Roadmap — accessible at countyhealthrankings.org/app/kentucky. This put Laurel above its surrounding counties, with Pulaski at #75, Rockcastle at #95, Jackson at #96, Knox at #106, McCreary at #111, Whitley at #114 and Clay at #117.
As Laurel's areas of strength, the County Health Rankings and Roadmap included:
— A 7 percent rate of citizens without insurance, noted as improving
— 5,354 preventable hospital stays with no significant trend
— A 92 percent high school graduation rate
Laurel's areas for examination included:
— A proportion of 32 percent in mammography screenings with no significant trend;
— A rate of 48 percent of citizens with some college experience;
— An unemployment rate of 5.1 percent with no significant trend. The report noted that there'd been an improvement over recent years; and
— 29 percent of children in poverty, which has gotten worse long-term but improved in recent years.
"Two things stand out to me when I think of the success and strengths of Laurel County," said Brandi Gilley, accreditation coordination and director of nutrition services at the Laurel County Health Department.
"The work that the city of London has done and continues to do with expanding city parks has been phenomenal," she continued. "It has really increased the opportunities for individuals and families to have something to do and we know that getting outside not only helps with physical health but mental health as well. The partnerships and collaborations that are in place across agencies. We have several coalitions and boards in place that allow us to work collaboratively to implement initiatives to improve overall health and wellness in the community. LCHD has staff that participate in each of these groups."
The coalitions, programs and groups include:
- The Laurel County Health in Motion (HIM) Coalition
- Laurel County Rural Community Opioid Response Program (LCRCORP)
- Laurel County Safe Child Coalition
- Laurel County Agency for Substance Abuse Policy (ASAP) Board
- Child Fatality Review Board
- (Regional) Recovery-Oriented Systems of Care (ROSC)
- Tri-County Cancer Coalition (serves Knox, Laurel, and Whitley Counties)
- WISE KY (Regional Immunization Coalition)
Participants in these groups include first responders and law enforcement, as well as local school systems, businesses and organizations. Gilley says the willingness to work together is one of the biggest strengths of the Laurel County community, making an impact on the health, wellness, and safety. However, Gilley notes there is still a lot to be done to promote a healthy community further.
"Even though we have wonderful things happening in our community, there are still many people who live in the rural sections of the county that have limited access to many things. In any discussions or assessments our agency has participated in, transportation continues to be a huge barrier not only in our county, but our region. I believe this barrier causes the greatest impact on the areas in which we are not seeing improvement," said Gilley.
In addition, the Laurel County Health Department and its partners continue to grapple with helping those who suffer from substance use disorders (SUD). Stigmas associated with SUD lead to barriers for those trying to recover. The Laurel County Health Department continues to look for ways to reach out to affected individuals.
To accomplish this, and to work towards improving the overall health of Eastern Kentucky, the Laurel County Health Department works closely with the health departments of Clay, Jackson, Rockcastle, Knox and Whitley Counties. Gilley says their currently working towards implement programs that cross county lines related to SUD and harm reduction services.
"We collaborate on other initiatives as well including trying to increase immunization rates across the region and assisting local cancer patients who need support and financial assistance for transportation," said Gilley. "We also share some staff with those health departments which is building stronger relationships across county lines."