Christina Clabaugh, 64, of Rocky Ridge, couldn’t help but cry after a doctor’s appointment earlier this month.
For several months, Christina Clabaugh, a semiretired housekeeper without health insurance, lived in fear that her severe abdominal cramps were due to colorectal cancer.
“I was ready to be told that I had cancer,” she said. “It was just dragging me down.”
A colonoscopy provided by the Colorectal Cancer Program — a Frederick County Health Department initiative that gives free colorectal cancer screenings to low-income residents — showed that Clabaugh was suffering from irritable bowel syndrome and not cancer.
“I went home and stood in the shower and cried [from relief],” she said of the diagnosis. “I thank God that I didn’t have any of those awful things. I feel so much better.”
Such programs are one of the reasons Frederick County is ranked the third best in Maryland for health outcomes, according to 2013 County Health Rankings.
The nationwide study, released in March by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, examines 25 factors that influence health in each county across the country.
“This just shows that [Frederick County] really is a great place to work, live and play,” said Frederick County health officer, Dr. Barbara Brookmyer, who heads the Frederick County Health Department.
Howard and Montgomery were the only counties that ranked higher than Frederick. Except for last year, when it came in fourth overall in the state, the county has held its third place ranking for the past four years.
“This report allows us to see what we’re doing right and where we need some improvement,” Brookmyer said.
During fiscal 2012, 540 women received clinical breast exams, cervical cancer screening and mammograms, and 103 people were screened for colon cancer, according to county health department reports.
They are just part of the $28 million in health services provided by the health department and paid for by county, state and federal funds.
Greta Morehead, 45, of Brunswick said she would have never known that a milk duct in her breast had atypical cells if she hadn’t used the department’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Program to get a mammogram.
“It could have been worse if they hadn’t found it early,” she said.
Morehead, a hair dresser and single-mother of four children, had the duct removed at Frederick Memorial Hospital last June and is now cancer free.
“I’m feeling great,” she said. “[The program] helped me out very much.”
According to the study, 5,126 people per 100,000 died in Frederick County before the age of 75 from 2008 to 2010, which is lower than the state’s 6,865 per 100,000 people.
The county also had fewer incidences of sexually transmitted infections and teen births than the state average, the report said.
In 2010, the county had 218 reported cases of chlamydia per 100,000 population compared to 454 cases per 100,000 population average in the state.
From 2004 to 2010, the birth rate for girls aged 15 to 19 was 23 births per 100,000 female population. The state average for the same age group was 32 births per 100,000 female population, the report said.
Even with Frederick’s overall high ranking, there are still areas where the county can improve, including adult smoking and adult obesity.
“We still have a lot of work to do,” Brookmyer said.
The county’s average adult smoking rate was only 1 percentage point lower than the state’s average at 15 percent of the population and 2 percentage points lower for adult obesity to the state average of 25 percent of the population, according to the report.
In addition, Frederick County’s average for excessive or binge drinking remained steady at 17 percent, the same as last year. The state figure is 15 percent of the population.
The health department is working with other county agencies and community groups to combat obesity with programs that encourage healthy eating habits and events, such as Docs in the Park, where local doctors write activity prescriptions for residents onsite at county nature parks, Brookmyer said.
The program is a partnership among Frederick County Parks and Recreation, city of Frederick Parks and Recreation and the health department.
The health department also provides free “Stop Smoking for Life Cessation Classes” twice a week and sponsors the Market Street Adolescent Activities Center, a free youth club at 520 N. Market St., which promotes healthy living.
About 10,590 people participated in health department provided tobacco education services in fiscal year 2012, according to agency reports.
Additional opportunities for improvement in the county include reducing low birth rates and the percentage of uninsured.
The county also plans to focus efforts of a program to improve infant birth weight, Brookmyer said.
From 2004 to 2010, 7.9 percent of the babies born in the county were less than 5.5 pounds, the report said. The state average was 9.2 percent.
The low birth-weight issue will be the focus of efforts of the maternal and child health program in the health department this year, Brookmyer said.
Ten percent of county residents were uninsured in 2010, 3 percentage points lower than the state average.
All the county’s areas of improvement will be examined as part of its Community Health Assessment, which the health department is currently in the process of revising, Brookmyer said.
The assessment, which was last published in 2007, analyzes the county’s health care system and identifies areas of improvement. It is expected to be completed in June.
Once done, it will be used to determine priorities to be added to the county’s health improvement plan.
Like Morehead, Clabaugh said she would not have been examined if it weren’t for the county’s cancer-screening program.
“I can’t thank the program enough,” she said. “I feel I am a new woman.”