25 Cities Where You Don’t Want to Get Sick

Source: matejphoto / Getty Images

10. Parkersburg-Vienna, WV
> 30-day hospital readmission rate: 16.5%
> Mortality within 30 days of hospitalization: 13.1%
> Preventable hospitalizations: 56.9 per 1,000 Medicare enrollees
> No. of physicians: 76.5 per 100,000
> Median household income: $44,054

Poorer areas tend to have underperforming hospital systems and worse health care overall. In the Parkersburg-Vienna metro area, the typical household earns just $44,054 a year, nearly $18,000 less than the U.S. median.

One indication of poor hospital quality can be high patient readmission. While the majority of hospital readmissions are non-preventable, many are due to poor post-acute care or medical complications incurred during initial treatment. In Parkersburg, 16.5% of all patients return to the hospital within 30 days of discharge, the 12th largest share of any U.S. metro area.

Source: BOB WESTON / Getty Images

9. Jackson, TN
> 30-day hospital readmission rate: 15.6%
> Mortality within 30 days of hospitalization: 14.8%
> Preventable hospitalizations: 54.5 per 1,000 Medicare enrollees
> No. of physicians: 105.0 per 100,000
> Median household income: $45,610

The rate of patients dying within 30 days of being admitted to a hospital in Jackson, Tennessee, is nearly the highest of any city in the United States. Some 14.8% of patients discharged from metro area hospitals die within 30 days, a higher share than in all but 11 other U.S. metro areas. The 30-day mortality rate for patients treated for pneumonia is particularly high — 20.1% compared to 15.6% nationwide.

Wealthier Americans are better equipped to afford regular, preventative health care and healthier options related to diet and lifestyle — and as a result, income is closely linked to health outcomes. As is the case in nearly every other metro area in this list, Jackson residents are more likely to be disadvantaged economically than the typical American. The median annual household income in Jackson is $45,610, well below the $61,937 national median.

Source: pasa / Flickr

8. Pine Bluff, AR
> 30-day hospital readmission rate: 16.7%
> Mortality within 30 days of hospitalization: 14.3%
> Preventable hospitalizations: 47.5 per 1,000 Medicare enrollees
> No. of physicians: 51.1 per 100,000
> Median household income: $37,314

Adjusted for risk factors such as age, patient health, and the presence of other chronic diseases, residents of Pine Bluff are more likely to die after receiving treatment in area hospitals than in a majority of metro areas. Some 14.3% of patients treated for conditions including heart attack, COPD, heart failure, pneumonia, and stroke die within 30 days of being admitted to the hospital, a larger share than the 12.4% comparable national mortality rate.

Pine Bluff residents are also among the most likely in the nation to have to return to the hospital after receiving care. Some 16.7% of patients in Pine Bluff are readmitted to the hospital within 30 days of discharge, the eighth largest share nationwide. While the majority of hospital readmissions are non-preventable, many are due to medical complications incurred during initial treatment or poor post-acute care.

Source: DenisTangneyJr / Getty Images

7. Hattiesburg, MS
> 30-day hospital readmission rate: 16.4%
> Mortality within 30 days of hospitalization: 13.3%
> Preventable hospitalizations: 64.8 per 1,000 Medicare enrollees
> No. of physicians: 84.5 per 100,000
> Median household income: $45,249

High unplanned hospital readmission rates are a burden on the health care system, costing Medicare an estimated $17 billion annually. High readmission rates can also sometimes be indicative of low-quality care. In Hattiesburg, Mississippi, 16.4% of people discharged from the hospital are readmitted within 30 days, higher than the 15.3% national readmission rate.

Poor quality care in Hattiesburg could be partially due to area hospitals being spread thin. For every 1,000 Medicare enrollees, there are about 65 preventable hospitalizations, well above the corresponding rate of 45 per 1,000 nationwide. Hospitalizations for conditions that could or should have been treated in an outpatient setting suggest an overreliance on hospitals and an inefficient distribution of resources.

Source: shakzu / Getty Images

6. Vineland-Bridgeton, NJ
> 30-day hospital readmission rate: 17.1%
> Mortality within 30 days of hospitalization: 12.5%
> Preventable hospitalizations: 74.7 per 1,000 Medicare enrollees
> No. of physicians: 42.9 per 100,000
> Median household income: $52,795

There are just 43 primary care physicians per 100,000 residents in the Vineland-Bridgeton metro area, one of the lowest concentrations of any city in the country. With fewer doctors per capita, Vineland residents may be more likely to go to the hospital for conditions that are treatable in a primary care setting, exposing themselves to risk of infection during their hospital stay and adding unnecessary strain on hospital resources. There are 75 such preventable hospitalizations in Gulfport per 1,000 Medicare enrollees, the fourth highest rate of any U.S. metro area.

Another possible indication of poor quality of care is a higher share of patients who return to the hospital within a short period after discharge, often due to infection or other medical complications incurred during treatment. Some 17.1% of patients in Vineland return to the hospital within 30 days of discharge, the fourth largest share among U.S. metropolitan areas.