County health rankings by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation show that there is one primary care physician for every 2,623 residents in the county. One county east in St. Johns, there are more than double the ratio of family doctors, one for every 1,067.
The problem goes beyond access. In St. Johns, residents are more likely to seek out information to bolster their health. Even when St. Johns residents do not search for health information, medical professionals say they are at minimum more likely to follow doctors’ orders.
“Being more affluent and educated, you are likely to have better access to information and you are also more likely to want it,” said Joe Gordy, chief executive of Flagler Hospital, which is in St. Johns County.
Jeff Feller, chief executive of WellFlorida Council, a state-designated regional health-care nonprofit organization, described Putnam as part of “the Southern disease belt.”
With 38 percent of its children in poverty and just 31 percent of its population with even some college education, there is little wonder why more than a fifth of Putnam residents are in poor or fair health, double the rate in St. Johns.
Adults also smoke at nearly double the rate they do in St. Johns, and they are far more likely to be obese and far less likely to be physically active, according to rankings developed by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
“It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure this out,” Feller said. “You just have to look at the socioeconomic and demographic differences — unemployment, education levels, income between the two counties — to understand what is going on. This is fueled by poor economics and a lack of access to health insurance and health coverage.”
Those differences are compounded by the resource gap separating the two counties. With a healthy tax base that is recovering from the recession, St. Johns officials are in a better position than those in Putnam to address problems as they arise. When St. Johns officials learned of a change in the infant mortality rate, they quickly joined forces with local nonprofit groups to get information out encouraging prenatal care.
Cyndi Stevenson, a member of the St. Johns County commission, said the county has formed similar partnerships to tackle a wide range of problems. The result is a county ranked as one of the healthiest places in Florida. Putnam, meanwhile, is ranked near the bottom.
She added that the county’s relative wealth helps make life not only better for its residents, but also longer. “A good economy does a lot for a family,” Stevenson said.