Grant to address health care disparities in Johnson County

The Johnson County Health and Human Services Building (right) is connected by an antenna over E. Benton Street to the Johnson County Administration Building. (Newspaper file photo)

IOWA CITY — Johnson County Public Health has been awarded a grant to address community health disparities.

The department’s public 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 CDC’s Bridging the Gap with Social Determinants of Health Acceleration Plans grant program. The goal of the program is to accelerate strategies that prevent and reduce chronic disease among people experiencing health disparities, according to the CDC.

Sam Jarvis, health manager for Johnson County Public Health, said to his knowledge, this is the first time Johnson County has received grant funding from this newer program. It’s a one-year funding opportunity, and the intent is to have a plan that’s “shovel ready” after the year is up, he said.

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

Social determinants of health are non-medical factors—such as where someone lives, access to education, access to health care, economic stability, and social context—that influence health outcomes.

“It’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 health care system, transportation and housing, among other aspects that can be barriers.

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

Johnson County Public Health will establish a leadership team to help guide and support the creation of a plan for community health workers to help address chronic disease in underserved populations in the county.

Carrie Shannon, a community nurse, and Lisa Parlato, a chronic disease prevention specialist—will lead the project.

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

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

“It’s certainly not lost on anyone that many of these elements, many of the themes and areas have probably gotten worse during the pandemic,” Jarvis said. “It’s important to be able to have an answer or a solution to be able to deal with them.”

Jarvis said the CDC has indicated that funding may be available that follows the Acceleration Plan grant program.

“Many communities across the U.S. are developing these off-the-shelf plans, so to speak, and hopefully there will be funding dollars for implementation in the future,” Jarvis said.

Johnson County Public Health hopes to see the community health worker program implemented in the county, Jarvis said.

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

“Of course, there’s a tremendous amount of incredible partners in Johnson County … who are doing a lot of incredible work who are already really advocating for these changes,” Jarvis said. “We certainly don’t want to detract from that at all, but we hope to enhance and provide support for those arguments.”

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