Health and healthcare are major items of interest in the news today, and for each of us personally, but we often don't take the time to be informed until confronted by a crisis.

Health and healthcare are major items of interest in the news today, and for each of us personally, but we often don’t take the time to be informed until confronted by a crisis. If you or a friend were to suddenly face such a crisis, do you know what options exist in your community? The health providers of Runnels County are coming together in a sustained effort to inform our communities and their citizens about prevention and treatment options that save lives, time and money. Each week readers will have an opportunity to learn from one of the local health professionals. If we are to be informed about the present and future we must learn something about the past. Therefore, we will begin with a quick look at the history of health and healthcare.

Leading causes of death, according to a list published for Boston, MA in 1811 were: ague (malaria and other relapsing fevers), cholera/diarrhea/dysentery, consumption (tuberculosis and pneumonia), quinsy (severe tonsillitis), stillbirth and worms. In 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the top ten causes of death were: Heart disease, Cancer, Accidents (unintentional injuries), Stroke, Alzheimer’s disease, Diabetes, Influenza/pneumonia, Chronic kidney disease, Suicide. When we actually study population health today, compared to that of prior ages, we see that most of the gains in longevity preceded antibiotics and other ‘miracles of modern medicine’. In truth it has been the productivity of farmers, the ingenuity of engineers and the material abundance produced by a free, thrifty and industrious populace that led to the greatest increase in life expectancy. First in Great Britain and then in American and elsewhere malnutrition, contaminated water, and insect borne diseases were largely eliminated.

When we examine the health and safety issues responsible for most of the disease, suffering and death before 1900, we see it is due mostly to causes and conditions beyond the control of the individual or their family. Now the situation is radically different. Of these, only Alzheimer’s disease has a cause that appears to be largely independent of behavior. Influenza and pneumonia deaths would be greatly reduced if everyone was fully vaccinated. Tobacco, abuse of other substances, lack of exercise, obesity, and lives that are too full to allow adequate time for sleep are the underlying causes in a large portion of each of the other conditions.

Today those of us in the medical field have the same calling as did our predecessors. We aim to prevent premature death, foster well-being throughout life and help the dying to die with dignity, in comfort, at the place they prefer. More and more this means helping people to make better choices for themselves and their families. Not only are a person’s choices the main determinant of health, it seems that as a society our choices are becoming worse, not better. After a steady improvement over the last few years, statistics recently released (www.countyhealthrankings.org) show that the rate of preventable death went up in 2015 (the last year for which statistics are available). Sadly, this trend appears destined to continue for some time. The health providers of Runnels County are coming together as the Runnels County Healthcare Coalition. We believe that we are each responsible for the health and well being of ourselves and our family, and we are all called to help our neighbors when they are in need.