Maine’s national health ranking is slipping, according to a new report.
America’s Health Rankings now places Maine at No. 23, falling from an all-time best of 8 back in 2010. The report, which is based on Centers for Disease Control data, cites a number of factors, from drug deaths to diabetes and infant mortality.
Maine got kudos in the report for its low violent crime rate and reductions in air pollution. But then there’s the bad news: diabetes has increased 12 percent in the past two years, drug deaths increased by more than 50 percent in the past three years and infant mortality has seen a slight improvement, but overall in the past five years, it has increased 20 percent.
“That’s just something that — it makes me ashamed,” says Dr. Dora Ann Mills, vice president for clinical affairs at University of New England and former director of the Maine Center for Disease Control.
Mills says she is also dismayed by the state smoking rate.
“Which had steadily declined throughout most of the last 25 years, has stagnated at 20 percent of adult smoking,” she says. “That is actually one of the higher rates in the nation now.”
Andy Coburn, a public health professor at the University of Southern Maine’s Muskie School, says there are a lot of potential reasons for why Maine is losing ground overall in its health ranking. Looking specifically at drug deaths, Coburn says the state isn’t doing enough to address the opioid crisis.
“We have enacted important policies to limit prescribing behavior, but we still have a lot of people who are very addicted and need treatment,” he says.
In general, Coburn says, Maine has limited policy attention to public health problems.
“I think generally speaking, we’re in a period where attention to public health has not been as great as it has been in previous times, and we’re not investing in public health initiatives,” he says.
Coburn says Maine is unique because it doesn’t have a lot of governmental public health agencies. He thinks public-private partnerships are critical to prevent further health declines.
All other New England states are maintaining ranks within the top 11 healthiest states. Coburn says a couple decades ago, Maine and Vermont were neck and neck. But Vermont has since pulled ahead and maintained that status — it’s currently the third healthiest state.
“So the question that occurs to people like me is, what is Vermont doing that we’re not doing? And I think we’d really like to know more about that,” he says.
Emily Spencer, a spokeswoman for the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, said in an email that even though there are some areas that need improvement, 19 of 30 measures in the report show a positive impact in the state, including the availability of primary care and mental health providers. Spencer says the department intends to collaborate with public and private entities to maintain and improve public health.
This story was originally published Dec. 13, 2017 at 4:57 p.m. ET.