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Georgia in bottom 10 states for senior health care

Georgia ranks No. 40, while Mississippi is last and Minnesota first in health rankings for seniors

Kathy Floyd, executive director for the Georgia Council on Aging, gave a legislative update from a Coalition of Advocates For Georgia’s Elderly conference at the SOWEGA Council on Aging Senior Life Enrichment Center last month. Floyd said last week she was happy Georgia didn’t rank any lower for senior health in a new report, but noted it has a “a long way to go.” (File Photo: Jennifer Parks)

Kathy Floyd, executive director for the Georgia Council on Aging, gave a legislative update from a Coalition of Advocates For Georgia’s Elderly conference at the SOWEGA Council on Aging Senior Life Enrichment Center last month. Floyd said last week she was happy Georgia didn’t rank any lower for senior health in a new report, but noted it has a “a long way to go.” (File Photo: Jennifer Parks)

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Meals on Wheels volunteers Betts Smith, left, and Arnold Hammack, center, deliver a hot meal to Colista Bridges, right, and her niece Ann Hill in Albany in this November 2012 file photo. While the General Assembly increased funding for the program this year, Georgia Council on Aging officials say it will fall short of meeting needs. (Albany Herald file photo)

ATLANTA — Georgia ranks 40th among states on seniors’ health measures, according to a newly released report on people 65 and older.

Several Southern states ranked in the bottom 10 on senior health, with Mississippi at 50th. Minnesota is the top-ranked state in America’s Health Rankings Senior Report, produced by the United Health Foundation.

Georgia’s strengths include a low prevalence of obesity among seniors; a high percentage of health screenings; and a high use of hospice care. The report said the state’s weaknesses include a low percentage of quality nursing home beds; a limited availability of home health care workers; and a high percentage of seniors living in poverty.

The report on senior health examines publicly available health data and bases its rankings on 34 measures.

This is the second year in which the report has been issued. Georgia improved from 43rd in last year’s rankings.

The authors found that nationally, improvements have been made in the quality of nursing homes and end-of-life care. Gains were also made in levels of physical activity among seniors and some reductions were reported in avoidable hospitalizations.

Georgia has more than 1 million people 65 and older, a population that’s expected to swell over the next two decades, as in the rest of the country.

Kathy Floyd, executive director of the Georgia Council on Aging, said Thursday that she was pleased that Georgia was not at the bottom of the rankings. “We still have a long way to go,’’ she told GHN after reviewing the report.

“I’m encouraged by the low level of obesity,’’ Floyd said. But she also noted that the report said more than 320,000 seniors are physically inactive in the state.

Among improvements are an increase in flu vaccinations, and that nursing homes in Georgia have lowered their use of antipsychotic medication, Floyd added.

Anne Glass, associate director of the University of Georgia’s Institute of Gerontology, noted that the report, using federal data on nursing home quality, found that just one-third of Georgia facilities rated four or five stars. “I’m surprised it was as low as it was,” Glass said.

She also pointed out the state’s shortages of home health care workers and geriatricians.

The senior health report said Georgia ranks in the bottom 10 states for poverty and for “food insecurity,” in which access to adequate food is limited by a lack of money.

Floyd noted that the Meals on Wheels program, which delivers food to seniors, has a rapidly growing wait list in Georgia.

The General Assembly appropriated $1.5 million in additional money for the Meals on Wheels program. “It’s a great move by the Legislature, but it will not meet the needs’’ of the program, Floyd said.

Nine states in the bottom 10 overall are either in the South or on its periphery. Besides the previously mentioned Mississippi, they are: Texas, at 41; Tennessee, 43; Alabama, 44; West Virginia, 45; Arkansas, 46; Oklahoma, 47; Kentucky, 48; and Louisiana, 49. The remaining state is Nevada, at 42.

The overall Georgia ranking is similar to those in other reports on the health of adults in the state. And the South in general has more health challenges than other regions, a recent report found.

Andy Miller is editor and CEO of Georgia Health News, www.georgiahealthnews.com.