Johnston County would appear to have much going for it: affordable housing, at least compared to many of our neighbors in the Triangle; schools that are good, though not great; good-paying jobs at companies like Grifols, Novo Nordisk and Caterpillar; proximity to not only good-paying jobs but also cultural amenities in nearby Triangle counties. And let’s not forget proximity also to North Carolina beaches.
What Johnston County doesn’t have is access to health care. As a story on Wednesday reported, the county has just one doctor for every 3,196 residents; that’s more than double the state ratio. That raises this question: Why don’t more doctors want to practice in a county that has so much going for it?
One part of the answer, we think, is that doctors are people too, which is to say they need to earn a living just like the rest of us. And given the fact that they went to costly medical school, it’s safe to say they need to earn an even better living than the rest of us.
In that case, being next door to Wake County is not a good thing, because for a doctor, it’s easier to earn a living in Wake than in Johnston. Consider these quick facts from the U.S. Census: More Wake residents than Johnston residents have college degrees, 47.6 percent vs. 19.9 percent; per-capita income in Wake is higher than in Johnston, $33,135 vs. $22,671. Wake also has the advantage in median household income, $65,826 vs. $50,132; and in the percentage of people living in property, 10.9 vs. 16.1.
In other words, Wake County residents are better able than Johnston residents to pay their doctor, in close to full, for his or her services. Doctors who get paid in full can more easily afford Raleigh’s more expensive housing, and they are even closer to good schools and cultural amenities.
All of this likely sounds familiar to Johnston school leaders, who every year lose numerous teachers to Wake County, which offers a more-generous salary supplement.
But whether the quest is to recruit doctors or teachers, Johnston County will never be as wealthy as Wake County. So Johnston will always have fewer doctors than its residents need.
That doesn’t mean the county should concede defeat, and indeed, Johnston Health is an aggressive and sometimes successful recruiter of doctors. It helps too that Johnston Health is now affiliated with UNC Health Care.
And while the hospital recruits, county leaders can do their part by continuing to strike the delicate balance between money for good schools and a tax rate that doesn’t scare away families and employers.
Johnston County residents will never enjoy the access to doctors that their Wake County neighbors do. But Johnston can and must do better; lives depend on it.