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Plans to spearhead prevention programs set by county

Washington County public health officials are looking to state grants to help tackle some of the county's top issues like obesity and chronic diseases associated with smoking and poor health.

County commissioners voted 3-2 April 7 to submit a grant proposal to the state Department of Health that, if approved, would give the county's public health department $75,000 to begin working on localizing the Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP).

The program, which was approved during the 2008 legislative session, draws money from the state health care access fund and allocates it to county public health departments to use to develop community programs that focus on organizing community leaders and using preventative steps to reduce obesity and exposure to tobacco.

Although all five Washington County board members expressed general support for the county to work on promoting healthy lifestyles, commissioners Bill Pulkrabek and Gary Kriesel cast dissenting votes on the proposal, citing concerns about the proven effectiveness of the program.

The board's approval authorized the county's public health department to submit the grant proposal for Phase One funding for the program, which would allow it to begin putting an organization of community leaders together and start planning how to initiate a program.

County public health director Lowell Johnson said the program will draw upon leadership from four sectors: schools, communities, work site and health care facilities.

"This group would represent a wide sector of the community," Johnson said.

If the county's request is approved, it would receive the grant effective July 1.

Once the initial organization is set, the Washington County public health department would need county board approval to apply for phase 2 SHIP funding to initiate the programs. The Phase Two funding would provide another $75,000 base funding and then a per capita funding rate to help implement health improvement programs.

Officials who founded the Statewide Health Improvement Program believe successful execution of the prevention aspect of the program could result in $316 million in annual health care cost savings.

For more on this story, see the April 15 print edition of the Woodbury Bulletin.