Merced County Public Health Department awarded $4 million to fight chronic diseases

The Merced County Department of Public Health was awarded a $4 million grant to continue efforts against chronic diseases, department officials and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, announced Thursday.

The grant, for $1.35 million per year for three years, was awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Costa explained that the new Partnerships to Improve Community Health grant will help better address chronic diseases – such as diabetes, vascular disease and obesity – that “severely impact” residents of Merced County.

“(The grant) will help foster an environment that will support and promote healthy behaviors, and decrease the rate of chronic diseases and ultimately deal with the health disparities that exist,” Costa said.

Strategies that officials will use to improve health conditions include reducing exposure to tobacco and secondhand smoke; increasing healthy food options; creating physical activity opportunities; and expanding access to chronic disease prevention resources.

Kathleen Grassi, director of the Merced County Department of Public Health, said the investment is important because of the high rates of chronic diseases in the area. In Merced County, more than 30 percent of adults are overweight or obese, she said.

She also shared that, according to the latest data, Merced County ranked No. 51 out of 58 counties with diabetes and No. 48 for heart disease and stroke. “We have a lot of work to do, but we are very excited about this (grant),” she said.

Stephanie Nathan, Merced County Department of Public Health supervising health educator, said part of the plan is to improve medical opportunities for those who already have a chronic disease.

“The department will work to create healthy environments to help Merced County residents adopt and maintain a healthy lifestyle,” Nathan said.

Grassi added that part of the funding may also be used to continue the monthly Health Care Consortium meetings, in which health officials throughout the county meet to discuss the development of the Affordable Care Act, as well as other public and community-health-related issues.

Grassi said she expects the funding to go into effect later this fall.