UCLA survey to get picture of county's health status

yamaro@mercedsunstar.comOctober 18, 2012 

Merced County residents will soon have the opportunity to be heard on their health care needs.

About 2,500 English and Spanish California Health Surveys will be mailed out in the coming days by the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research.

"It's a statewide survey aimed at helping us understand health access that residents in California have," said Brian Mimura, program manager for The California Endowment.

It supports the Building Healthy Communities initiative in Merced County.

"The survey is done statewide, but in smaller counties such as Merced County, often we don't have the opportunity to have our voices heard," Mimura said.

The survey has been conducted by the center for the past 10 years, but this year there's an effort to get more representative samples from the Merced area, he said. It's a new strategy to include the health status of the smaller, rural counties throughout the state.

"It's particularly important that Merced County folks respond to this so that our local needs can be captured and represented along with the rest of the state," Mimura said.

"For too long the needs of the Central Valley and other rural communities in the state have not been accurately represented on the statewide basis," he said. "Our hope is to have the most accurate picture possible."

It's important for those needs to be fairly addressed in a time when state budgeting decisions are being made, Mimura said.

Kathleen Grassi, director of the Merced County Department of Public Health, said that her agency and other public health researchers often use the data from the surveys to get a snapshot of the health factors that are important in a community.

However, the responses from smaller communities typically are not as strong as those from larger areas where people are more informed. "It really underrepresents us," she said.

"This information helps us design programs," she said. "It helps us greatly when the public health department and community-based organizations are trying to be competitive for grant funding."

Chronic diseases

The department uses the data along with other information to make its case for why more programs and services are needed, Grassi said.

It's particularly important for public health researchers to have access to information about chronic diseases. For example, the rates for people suffering with diabetes are difficult to determine.

"It's hard to capture in other ways, because we don't have the ability to tap into medical records to know how many people in the community have diabetes," she said.

Surveys provide valuable information that help public health officials better help the community, Grassi said.

That is why it's crucial for residents to take their time and fill out the surveys as accurately as they can, Grassi said.

The one-page survey only has a few questions and shouldn't take long to complete. A toll-free number is provided as an alternative for people who prefer to call and provide their answers verbally, Mimura said.

There's also a phone number recipients can call if they would like to participate in a more comprehensive survey in English or Spanish. "We highly encourage that as well, because it would give more in-depth information," he said.

Answers confidential

Completion of the survey is optional and responses remain confidential. It will be mailed to randomly selected residents, Mimura said. Participants receive a $2-bill incentive for filling out the survey.

"This is one way of having our needs and desires heard," he said.

Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482 or yamaro@mercedsunstar.com.

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