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Home arrow Features arrow Living Well

Survey: Baker County residents among least healthy in Oregon


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A national health survey has ranked Baker County residents as some of the least healthy in the state.

But it ranks the county in the middle of the pack when comparing factors that influence the health of its residents with those of other Oregon counties.

The county dropped to 30th in a ranking of health outcomes in the 2012 County Health Rankings report. That’s down one from the 29th-place finish of 2010 and 2011.

On the other hand, the county  moved to 16th in a ranking of health factors in the 2012 report, up from last year’s ranking of 18th, but down from its ranking of 14th two years ago.

Health factors included in the study range from health behaviors to clinical care, social and economic factors and the physical environment.

The University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation have conducted the study and issued their reports annually for the past three years.

Baker County continues to score in the bottom of the health outcomes ranking for Oregon counties because of its high number of premature deaths.

That statistic is tied to the number of deaths before the age of 75, which was 9,036 per 100,000 population in this year’s report. The statewide rate was 6,343.

The health outcomes ranking also is gauged by morbidity, which the report defines as “how healthy people feel while alive.” 

Those results are based on a sampling of county residents from 2004 to 2010 in which they voluntarily replied to a series of health-related questions.

Here are the responses of the survey participants:

• 13 percent said they were in poor or fair health, compared to 14 percent statewide.

• They averaged 3.2 poor physical health days during the month, compared to 3.7 reported statewide.

• They averaged 3.0 poor mental health days during the month, compared to 3.3 statewide.

The morbidity ranking also includes the percentage of low-birthweight babies — those who weigh less than 5 pounds — which was at 8.3 percent in Baker County, compared to the statewide rate of 6 percent.

Low birthweight is included in the health outcomes portion of the study because it measures maternal exposure to health risks and the infant’s current and future health, as well as premature death risk, the study states.

Just three other counties, Klamath (31), Douglas (32) and Jefferson (33), ranked lower than Baker County in the area of health outcomes.

Benton County retained its first-place ranking in both health outcomes and health factors for the third year. Washington, Hood River, Clackamas and Deschutes counties were ranked second through fifth respectively. 

Hood River and Washington counties swapped places for second and third in the health factor ranking and Clackamas and Deschutes counties retained their fourth- and fifth-place finishes in that area of the study.

For the third year, the study did not include Gilliam, Sherman and Wheeler counties because of inadequate data or data that were not comparable to other counties, according to the report.

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Nothing slows him down

At 98 1/2 , Sherm Allen stays busy volunteering around town

Sherm Allen offers a friendly smile to visitors at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, where he has volunteered since the Center opened in 1992. He joined the Trail Tenders with his late wife, Pansey. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins)
Sherm Allen has earned the right to take it easy, but you can’t tell this man to slow down.

At 98 1/2, he still spends Monday mornings as a volunteer Trail Tender at the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, and every day he heads to the Senior Center for lunch.

Just this summer he decided to hire out his yard work — but he still likes to water his own grass and drag hoses around.

He’s been in the Elks Lodge for 66 years, and he’s a Shriner — he sold advertising for the annual Shrine football game until he was 97.

To celebrate him, Sherm’s family threw him a party on July 10. More than 50 people attended — grandnieces, grandnephews, and their children and grandchildren.

“It was a wonderful recognition of him,” said his stepdaughter, Sandra Allen.

Sherm’s father, Daniel Wright Allen, arrived in Eagle Valley on Jan. 1, 1888. He was 19 years old, and had 20 cents in his pocket.

He came from Missouri.

“And he never wanted to go back,” Sherm says. “He came out here alone. He brought a load of cattle out, and that paid his way.”

Retirement plans gone awry — in a good way

Ken Humphrey, 71, retired to Baker City and promptly got involved in the school district

Ken Humphrey, 71, came to Baker City three years ago to retire.

Or so he thought.

After moving here from New Orleans, he quickly got involved with the Baker School District, making recommendations to the board about the district’s finances.

“They realized they didn’t have enough money to run it so I started working on the expenses to see where they could save money,” he said.

He said there were a lot of historic buildings that no one wanted to see out of commission, but the reality was the upkeep was more than the district could spend.

He helped to set up the Baker AllPrep Academy charter school, which is funded under the umbrella of the school district. Since the school started, he has worked as an administrator.

“Before that came along, I was quite happily retired,” he said.

Next on Humphrey’s “retirement to-do list” was to get kids in college.

The heart of the Center

Alberta Darlington, 73, has a passion for the Rachel Pregnancy Center

Alberta Darlington with her grandson Sage, 4, who often visits his grandma when she’s working at the Rachel Pregnancy Center in Baker City. (Baker City Herald/Kathy Orr)
When Alberta Darlington says “babies,” her voice is so full of love you feel she’d do pretty much anything to protect the precious children.

And she does.

Darlington, 73, is the executive director of the Rachel Pregnancy Center in Baker City, a place originally founded to assist women who found themselves facing an unplanned pregnancy.

These days, any caregivers — parents, grandparents, foster parents — can seek help at the center to find clothing, diapers and, maybe most of all, support.

“I just want to make a difference,” Darlington says.

The center is faith-based, funded entirely by donations, and staffed by volunteers. Darlington is the only paid employee.

The center originally opened in 1992. In November 2001, it closed for six months.

It was around that time that Darlington was looking for something to fill her spare time.

Getting fit the triathlon way

101 have signed up for the YMCA’s mini triathlon on May 8

Anne Mehaffy, front, and Kata Bulinkski are preparing for Saturday's mini triathlon.
All have gone swimming, ridden bikes or taken a run at some time in their lives.

But all sports together? On the same day?

No — but there’s no time like the present to try something new.

“I was thrilled to know there was something going on in January,” says Darlene Nelson, 73.

The event is a mini triathlon, sponsored and organized by the Baker County Family YMCA.

Competitors will swim 400 yards (that’s eight laps at Sam-O Swim Center), ride a bike for six miles and run one mile. The mini triathlon takes place Saturday, the finale of a 16-week training schedule. Participants could chose either a “couch-to-triathlon” regimen, or a more challenging “2X” schedule that included two days of swimming, two of bicycling and two of running each week.

“It starts out so innocently,” says Ann Mehaffy, who along with her training partner Kata Bulinski describes her age as “60-something.”

She’s not after a jackpot — just the fun

Agnes Uttenreuther, 95, has organized trips to Nevada for 15 years

Agnes Uttenreuther, 95, keeps her notebook handy with the lists of everyone signed up for trips to Winnemucca. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins)
Agnes Uttenreuther has a full-time job when she organizes the trips to Winnemucca, Nev., twice a year — taking reservations and cancellations, securing hotel rooms, advertising the trips.

“I enjoy doing it. I’ve always liked figures,” she says of her mathematical system.

And she’s beginning to wonder if five is her lucky number this year — she turned 95 in January, the March bus was her 75th, and this is her 15th year of organizing trips.

“I never realized it — maybe I better try everything with 5,” she says with a laugh.

Bob Russell, 90, is a regular at the YMCA

Bob Russell hasn’t been seen changing clothes in phone booths or leaping tall buildings in a single bound, but at age 90 he is earning a Superman reputation for his workouts at the Baker County Family YMCA fitness center.

Russell pumps iron and puts in time on the treadmills, ellipticals and stair-stepping machines.

Russell, who retired some 30 years ago as a wildlife refuge manager for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, said he worked outdoors across the Northwest and spent his spare time and the first 22 years of retirement hunting, fishing and playing golf.

When Bob and his wife, Nora, 87, moved to Baker City eight years ago to live near their daughter, Susan Duby-Huddleston, his best days of hunting and fishing were behind him.

Yet he felt it was important to stay physically active.

31st annual Spring Fling square and round dance set for April 23-25

Since 1979, Baker City’s local square dance club, Elkhorn Swingers, has hosted a three-day dance-filled weekend each spring to welcome square and round dancers from throughout Oregon, Washington, and Idaho.

This year’s event will run April 23-25 at Community Connection, 2810 Cedar St.  In addition to lots of dancing, participants may take home a treasure or two buying dance apparel at Ladybug Resale or win a bid during the silent auction, which features theme baskets, home-baked goodies, and even some local arts and crafts.

A morning with George and Joan

These 79-year-olds stay busy with exercise, church activities and the occasional candy-making

George and Joan Wilder, both 79, will celebrate their sixth wedding anniversary in July. These two first met 30 years ago while working at the Extension Office, and reconnected after their spouses passed away. (S. John Collins/Baker City Herald)
The door swings open, welcoming visitors to the home of George and Joan Wilder.

But peek inside and neither is in sight.

Then George bustles through on his way to the kitchen, where the counter is covered with bags of marshmallows and nuts, and several bowls of melted chocolate.


On this day, George is going to demonstrate his candy-making talents — but first comes the mid-morning snack as required by the low-carb diet he and Joan started two weeks ago. (They both already exercised.)

The candy, made for the purpose of this demonstration, will leave with his visitors, he says with a grin.

Welcome to “A Morning with George and Joan.”

Take off your coat and stay a while — here’s your two slices of apple and an ounce of cheddar cheese.

But first he wants you to notice that plate with a slice of cheese surrounded by tiny mice made from a chocolate-dipped maraschino cherry and a Hershey’s Kiss.

“I want to get the cheese before the mice do,” he says with a wink.

‘We’ve been buddies forever’

Charlie Chinn, 82, and Duane Schaer, 81, met on a school bus in the 1940s

Charlie Chinn, left, and Duane Schaer have been building and collecting memories all through their life-long friendship. Fetching wood for their winter home-heating puts them out in the mountains each summer. (Baker City Herald/S. John Collins)
Charlie Chinn and Duane Schaer don’t need words to share a joke — a simple glance is enough to send them into quiet chuckles.

But that’s bound to happen when you’ve been friends for nearly 60 years.

Charlie is 82 (he turns 83 in March) and Duane is 81.

They both grew up in Baker Valley, but didn’t grow up together.

In their youth, grade schools were scattered around the valley to serve the kids from ranches and farms.

Duane spent his early years in the area of Sutton Creek (he still remembers how the hobos would throw coal from the trains to thank his family for providing a warm meal).

His family moved to the Pocahontas area when he was in the first grade.

“They made me take over the first grade,” he says, which makes Charlie laugh.

From there, Duane went to Pocahontas School, while Charlie attended Wingville.

“The Wingville kids couldn’t associate with the Pocahontas kids,” Charlie says with a smile.

Wingville was the first to consolidate with the Baker school district, so Charlie rode a bus to town for junior high.

Two years later Duane climbed on the same bus.

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