Health report: UP population getting older

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Kate Beer, health officer for the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department, presents findings from a recent Upper Peninsula-wide health needs assessment at the Houghton County Board meeting last week.

HOUGHTON — Some of Houghton County’s most pressing health statistics were presented to the Houghton County board Tuesday as part of a report on the Peninsula Community Health Needs assessment.

Kate Beer, health officer for the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department, discussed the county results from the report, a collaboration of 31 partners that includes results from all Upper Peninsula counties.

Like other counties in the region, Houghton County has a higher percentage of seniors than the state overall. The county’s percentage of 13.1 is lower than other areas, owing to the presence of universities, Beer said.

More than one in eight households in Houghton County is a senior living alone, said Beer, and addressing community health will mean thinking about their social and medical needs.

“When we start looking at our health care costs and our health care needs for the future, and we’ve got a declining younger population, who’s going to take care of the older populations?” she said.

For Houghton and Keweenaw counties, health insurance dominated resident concerns, with the cost and lack of insurance being the top two areas communities wanted the department to prioritize.

About 14.7 percent of residents said they did not have health insurance. Even more people — 19 percent — said they were unable to access health care due to cost.

“One of the things we’re thinking is people are having trouble getting over the cost and not having insurance, so the transportation question is secondary … If they can’t afford it, they’re not going to go anywhere,” she said.

Medical care makes up about 20 percent of health outcomes over a person’s life, Beer said. Ten percent depends on where a person lives. Another 30 percent comes from personal behaviors, such as smoking, drinking or exercise. The largest share, 40 percent, comes from socioeconomic factors such as education and employment.

A Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation funds presentations like this one for regional health departments to share the results with community partners. Last week, departments began focus groups to get more ideas on where health resources should go.

The focus groups are charged with finding at least three community priorities for a community health improvement plan.

“Maybe not in the next iteration of this but in the second or third iteration, we can see some of those numbers move in a positive direction,” Beer said.

The full health needs assessment and data by county is available online at