County health department gets largest federal grant


The Kent County Health Department has been awarded a Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health, or REACH, grant of $2.18 million dollars over the next three years, the largest grant ever directly awarded to the KCHD from the federal government.

The money will be used to fight chronic diseases and reduce health disparities in designated “Hope Zones” in Grand Rapids by increasing tobacco-free environments and access to healthy food and beverages, as well as opportunities for increased physical activity.

The grant will also be used to create opportunities for chronic disease prevention, risk reduction or management through clinical and community linkages.

The federal government’s REACH initiative supports public health efforts to reduce chronic diseases, promote healthier lifestyles, reduce health disparities and control health care spending. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will administer the grants, which will run for three years, subject to availability of funds.

“We could not have received this award without the support of our many community partners, including the YMCA, who will play a significant role in grant activities, and the collaborative work of Kent County Health Connect, who built the foundation for this type of work through the Community Transformation Grant received in 2011,” said Adam London, KCHD health officer.

London said the news of the grant “comes after a very successful month for the Kent County Health Department staff.” The month also saw the opening of the new South Clinic in Kentwood and National Accreditation from the Public Health Accreditation Board.

Overall, HHS awarded $35 million in new grant awards to 49 local health agencies across the country. REACH, a CDC program that began in 1999, focuses on racial and ethnic communities experiencing health disparities. Grants have been made to local governmental agencies, community-based nongovernmental organizations, tribes and tribal organizations, Urban Indian Health Programs, and tribal and intertribal consortia.

Reduction of tobacco use and improved nutrition are key elements of REACH.

Seventeen organizations are receiving funds for basic implementation activities; 32 additional organizations are receiving funds to immediately expand their scope of work to improve health and reduce health disparities.

REACH is financed in part by the Prevention and Public Health Fund of the Affordable Care Act.

“The cost of managing chronic diseases is growing,” said Teresa Branson, deputy health officer of the Kent County Health Department. “In this country, chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes are the leading causes of death, disability and health care costs, accounting for seven of 10 deaths among Americans each year, and more than 80 percent of the $2.7 trillion our nation spends annually on medical care.”

According to KCHD, death rates from heart disease and cancer are significantly higher among African-Americans in the county, compared to whites. A statistical average of 250 out of every 100,000 African-Americans have heart disease, compared to 173 out of 100,000 whites, and the cancer rate is 217 out of 100,000 African-Americans versus 153 among whites. African-Americans also experience greater incidence rates for colorectal, lung and prostate cancer.

In Kent County, the percentage of African-American babies born at a low birth weight (5.5 pounds or less) is twice that of white and Hispanic babies. African-American women are twice as likely to receive inadequate prenatal care as whites, and African-American infants are nearly three times more likely to die in their first year than white infants.

Compared to those with a household income level of $75,000 or more, individuals with a household income less than $20,000 are nearly twice as likely to be obese, and are at least three times more likely to report no leisure time physical activity. They are also at least three times more likely to smoke.

The Kent County Health Department has been working to eliminate disparities through a variety of programs, such as the Interconception Care program. It helps women who have delivered a baby too early, of low birth weight or stillborn to plan and prepare for the next pregnancy, leading to increased gestation time, better birth weight and healthier outcomes.

All staff of KCHD also take part in Health Equity and Social Justice Workshops.

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