The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Local News

October 23, 2012

Health commissioner says state's health is slipping

ST PETER — In a talk Tuesday at St. Peter’s River’s Edge Hospital, Minnesota Commissioner of Health Ed Ehlinger’s message was simple: Minnesota is slipping when it comes to national health rankings, and he thinks it’s time the state gets back on top.

For years Minnesota was ranked No. 1 or No. 2. Now we’re No. 6 in rankings that compare overall health across dozens of measures.

“I’m taking this personally,” said Ehlinger, addressing a group of doctors, nurses and staff members at the hospital, as well as public health officials. “We’re going in the wrong direction.”

Ehlinger said he remembers driving through Minnesota in the summer of 1973 when he spotted an issue of Time magazine on a newsstand. The cover featured a photograph of then Gov. Wendell Anderson holding up a freshly hooked fish next to the words, “The good life in Minnesota.”

He thought to himself, after seeing that cover, that Minnesota wouldn’t be a bad place to end up. He said he still believes the good life can be found in Minnesota, but some changes need to be made if the state intends to live up to its reputation as being a great state to live, raise families and experience overall high quality of life.

First, the problems.

State expenditures for public health, he said, are 46th in the nation. In the category of getting rid of binge drinking, the state ranks 44th. In the vaunted Kids Count annual survey, Minnesota slipped from No. 1 to No. 5.

Ehlinger said one of the reasons the state’s rankings are slipping is diversity.

“By itself, that’s not a bad thing. It’s actually a good thing,” he said. “But the problem is we have not addressed the racial and ethnic disparities that go along with it.”

In other words, the state hasn’t figured out how to bring the numbers for ethnic groups in key categories to track with the rest of the state. Disparities exist, he said, and until those disparities are addressed, the rankings will continue to go down.

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