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Lack of public funding overshadows WI health ranking


Wisconsin is 21st in the country when measuring health data, but an annual ranking found the Badger State is behind most other states in funding public health efforts.

America's Health Rankings from United Health Foundation showed Wisconsin is 49th among states in getting funds to local health departments.

KT Gallagher, director of the Dunn County Health Department, said administrators like her must often scrape together whatever they can to provide services like immunizations, support for new families and environmental health programming. She pointed out many people face barriers to maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and these offices can make things better.

"That systems-level work -- if we had additional funding to support that -- would go a long way to prevent illness that can adversely impact our ability to be safe and healthy, and productive," Gallagher contended.

She emphasized not only is this a state issue, but encouraged local governments to be more willing to accept funding to support Health Department priorities. She cautioned a lack of sufficient funding can deepen health disparities exposed by the pandemic.

As for Wisconsin's strengths, the report showed it has a low prevalence of nonmedical drug use and physical inactivity. But like the rest of the country, drug deaths are a concern in Wisconsin.

Dr. Rhonda Randall, chief medical officer for UnitedHealthcare employer and individual, said there is a common factor at play.

"What we see is a substantial amount of the cause of those drug overdose deaths, about 70% of it is related to an opioid," Randall reported. "In most cases, it's a nonprescription. "

The report said drug-related deaths increased by 30% nationally in just one year. Wisconsin's increase mirrors U.S. numbers in this category. Randall asserted it is important to seek support for behavioral health and substance-use issues.

UnitedHealthcare offers a toll-free treatment helpline through its sister company, Optum. It's available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Mike Moen is a radio news reporter with nearly two decades of experience in the field. He has covered much of the upper Midwest, including Minnesota, Illinois, Wisconsin and the Dakotas. Many of his stories have aired nationally, including several public radio programs.
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