Grant to Address Health Inequalities in Johnson County

The Johnson County Health and Human Services Building (right) is connected by a walkway over E. Benton Street to the Johnson County Administration Building. (Photo of the Gazzetta file)

IOWA CITY – Johnson County Public Health received a grant to address health disparities within the community.

The department’s Community Health Division is one of 40 recipients nationwide to receive $ 125,000 in funding from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Funding comes from the CDC’s “Closing the Gap with Social Determinants of Health Accelerator Plans” grant program. The program’s goal is to accelerate strategies that prevent and reduce chronic disease among people suffering from health disparities, according to the CDC.

Sam Jarvis, Johnson County Community Health Officer, said this is the first time Johnson County has received funding from this new program. This is a one-year funding opportunity and the intention is to have a plan that is “shovel-ready” once the year is up, he said.

“This is really the kind of work we see as innovative, exciting and really what we hope to be able to address the social determinants of health,” Jarvis said.

Social determinants of health are non-medical factors, such as where a person lives, access to education, access to health care, economic stability, and the social environment, which affect health outcomes.

“He’s really looking at what the root causes of the problems are,” Jarvis said.

Jarvis said it can be difficult for people to navigate the healthcare system, transportation and housing, among other things that could be barriers.

“We want to develop a program that can help address and navigate those areas,” Jarvis said.

Johnson County Public Health will create a leadership team to help guide and support the creation of a plan for community health workers to help address chronic diseases in disadvantaged populations within the county.

Karrey Shannon, community health nurse, and Lisa Parlato, chronic disease prevention specialist, will lead the project.

Community health workers were chosen because they can help residents overcome barriers that prevent them from achieving better health outcomes, Jarvis said. Community health workers are also familiar with the county and the services it offers, she added.

Addressing the social determinants of health is critical to improving health and reducing long-standing inequalities in health, according to Johnson County Public Health.

“It certainly is not escaping anyone that many of these elements, many of the topics and areas, are likely to have worsened during the pandemic,” Jarvis said. “It is important to be able to have the answer or a solution to be able to deal with them.”

Jarvis said the CDC has indicated that there may be funding following the acceleration plan grant program.

“Many communities in the United States are developing these shovel-ready plans, so to speak, and hopefully there will be funding for implementation in the future,” Jarvis said.

Johnson County Public Health hopes to see the implementation of the community health workers program in the county, Jarvis said.

As the information is gathered during the one-year planning period, Jarvis said the goal is to share it with the community and organizations that can help address some of the barriers and develop solutions.

“Of course, there are a huge amount of amazing partners in Johnson County … who are doing an amazing job, who are already really supporting these changes,” Jarvis said. “We certainly don’t want to belittle that, but hopefully, improve and provide support for those topics.”

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