Just 26 of the 500 healthiest U.S. counties have a larger-than-average black population, according to a new study by U.S. News and World Report and the Aetna Foundation. Four of those 26 are in Georgia and Denise Hines lives in one of them, Fayette County. Hines is the executive director of the Georgia Health Information Network and CEO of eHealth Services group. (PHOTO by ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM) Denise, a first-generation Jamaican-American, grew up with healthcare providers in her family and knew that she wanted involvement in the profession. While she was helping to take care of her terminally-ill sister, she saw a need for technology to be more integrated in Georgia's healthcare system. Denise founded eHealth Services Group in 2011. "We work with healthcare providers to help them adopt technology," said Denise. "My role as CEO of eHealth services group is to grow a team to help those healthcare providers implement the technology to help them with their jobs." Denise has been honored many times over for her role in assisting with the integration of technology in healthcare. In 2017, Denise was recognized as the Woman of the Year in Technology-Small Enterprise by the Women in Technology awards. She was named the 2017-2018 Chair of the North America board of Health Information and Management System Society. She is the first African American woman to hold the position. Denise knows that hard work and determination got her to her current position but she does not give herself all the credit. "I believe that with the hard work, comes the reward," said Denise. "But I've always had to go to my mentors to have them say, 'you can do it!'" Denise pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha, the first African American sorority recognized in the National Pan-Hellenic Council, while pursuing her undergrad degree at Albany State University. She is a Silver Star member of the sorority and has served for over 25 years. ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJC.COM
Photo: ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJ
Photo: ALYSSA POINTER/ALYSSA.POINTER@AJ

Some Georgia counties are a bright patch in black health disparities

There’s a sweet spot for African-American health outcomes, and it’s in Georgia.

Usually, African-Americans tend to have worse-than-average health outcomes, driven by a number of factors. A new report by U.S. News and World Report and the Aetna Foundation backs that up. Looking at the health statistics of counties and the percentage of a county’s population that was African-American, the authors found that within the country’s 500 healthiest counties, just 26 had a heavier-than-average black population. (The U.S. population is about 13 percent African-American.)

Among those 26 the report points out two bright spots: the Washington, D.C., and Atlanta areas.

In both places, compared with the U.S. overall, counties existed with both higher-than-average black populations and better-than-average health outcomes.

The authors say they assessed dozens of metrics, such as insurance coverage, doctor visits, income, food accessibility and the natural environment.

Part of the reason those places bucked the trend is money.

Four of those 26 counties were Cobb, Fayette and Paulding counties in metro Atlanta; and Columbia County, on the outskirts of Augusta. The four are among Georgia’s wealthiest, within the top 10 percent of Georgia counties. And in these counties, some black people are sharing in the health benefits of that prosperity.

What makes a difference, according to researchers: Their residents have access to affordable housing and high incomes. Many also hold college degrees, indicating some economic and education factors can be more critical than race when it comes to predicting health outcomes.

“Virtually everything that drives health and opportunities to be healthy in American life is determined by place,” said David Williams, a public health and African-American studies professor at Harvard University.

Stay on top of what’s happening in Georgia government and politics at ajc.com/politics.

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