Reading beyond the rankings

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Emily Mongan
Emily Mongan

It's easy to take big, national health reports like the 2016 America's Health Ranking Senior Report, skim the results for your state and leave it at that.

If you live in Massachusetts, you might have done a little happy dance, seeing as the state ranked first for healthiest seniors. If you live and work in Louisiana — which landed 50th on the list — not so much.

But if you read only the news stories touting your state's successes (or failures), or scanned the report to see where your home landed, you're missing the big picture and the key question: What's driving these rankings? The report's authors include a sort of warning to those who may take the rankings at face value and move on, saying the report “is about digging deeper, digesting data, and then doing something that will improve state health. The rankings are important, but they are only a starting point.”

So let's move on from that starting point. What factors influence the report's findings? Obesity, food security, hospitalizations and overall health status play a big role.

But the two states that saw their rankings jump the highest had two important components in common — an improvement in nursing home quality. And a big one at that.

Alaska and New Jersey both saw their senior health ranking jump 10 spots on the list for 2016. The biggest drivers for both were an overall increase in the quality of nursing homes, with Alaska's quality rising 37% and New Jersey's seeing a 20% improvement. Those quality improvements have an “enormous impact” on seniors' health and finances, the report notes. The negative health incomes that may drag a state's ratings down can be prevented with quality nursing homes practices.

For those of you still focused on the list aspect of the report, you're in luck — the report singles out nursing home quality by state, ranking from the best (North Dakota) to the worst (Louisiana, which just can't catch a break here). Hawaii, Maine, New Hampshire and Washington round out the top five, while Texas, West Virginia, Kentucky and Oklahoma fill the bottom.

The report as a whole may serve as a quick pat on the back to the top states, or to reaffirm that the lower-performing states already know. But for healthcare insiders and stakeholders, heed the authors' advice. Dig deeper into the results, ask yourself why your state landed where it did and ponder what you can do to help bring your ratings up. Because, as the authors note, even a low ranking can serve as a starting point.

Follow Emily Mongan @emmongan.

Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Marty Stempniak.