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Study ranks N.J. No. 27 in senior health

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A new report ranks New Jersey in the middle of the pack when it comes to the health of its senior citizens.

The America’s Health Rankings Senior Report, published by the United Health Foundation, placed New Jersey 27th for seniors based on a set of health, environmental and socioeconomic data. The United Health Foundation is associated with United Healthcare, the Minnesota-based health benefits giant.

“New Jersey’s growing senior population points to the urgency of identifying key opportunities for improving senior health and pursuing effective solutions at the national, state, community and family levels,” said Dr. Anju Sikka, regional medical director for United Healthcare of New Jersey.

According to U.S. Census data compiled by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development, New Jersey had 1.2 million seniors in 2010 — a 6.5 percent increase from 2000. However, the number of seniors is expected to jump to 1.5 million by 2020, and to 1.9 million by 2030.

New Jersey ranks among the top 10 states in a handful of areas. More than 98 percent of seniors here receive recommended hospital care for conditions including heart attacks, heart failure and pneumonia, placing the state third in the country.

Two-thirds of seniors are considered “able-bodied,” placing New Jersey sixth in the nation. The state also has a low rate of hip fracture hospitalizations among Medicare enrollees, placing fifth in the nation. And it ranks eighth for availability of geriatricians. That said, the state still has a 41.8 percent shortfall of geriatricians, according to the study.

Those factors are offset, however, by a number of challenges.

New Jersey ranks last in ICU use. The study found nearly one-quarter of New Jersey seniors spend a week or more in an intensive care unit during the last six months of their lives.

Thirty-six percent of seniors here die in the hospital, the fourth-worst rate in the country. And nearly 17 percent of hospitalized seniors were readmitted to the hospital within 30 days, ranking 46th in the nation.

Though New Jersey ranks in the middle nationally, it’s falling behind the rest of the region, according to the report. Pennsylvania (17), Delaware (12), Maryland (10) and New York (23) all rank ahead of the Garden State.

The report also examined health disparities among socioeconomic categories. For instance, 62 percent of New Jerseyans earning more than $75,000 per year were considered to be in “excellent” or “very good” health, while only 26 percent of those making less than $25,000 per year fell into the same health categories. The study also found low-income seniors were more likely to be physically inactive. Black seniors were found to have the highest rate of obesity, while Latino seniors had the lowest obesity rate.  

The full study can be found at www.americashealthrankings.org.

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