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Sonoma County health officials are taking the fight against cardiovascular disease to the next level, one that focuses on early prevention and involves broad participation from, among others, local government, educators, residents, community groups and health care professionals.

The initiative is an extension of health care strategies developed through the county’s Health Action partnership, which seeks to improve public health and reduce health care disparities.

To that end, the county’s Department of Health Services and the collaborative partnership of community leaders and organizations known as Health Action recently were awarded an $850,000 grant to establish an Accountable Community of Health.

“It’s taking the concept of what hospitals and health care systems have been trying to do to improve health and reduce costs and applying that to the whole community,” said Karen Milman, the county’s health officer. “We know that much of your health happens in the community and not at a health care agency... It’s working beyond traditional health care partners to improve health.”

The grant is offered by the California Accountable Communities for Health Initiative, a statewide project sponsored by The California Endowment, Blue Shield of California Foundation, Kaiser Permanente and Sierra Health Foundation. Sonoma County was among six communities or counties that received grants, which totaled $5.1 million.

The local initiative will officially begin soon after a statewide launch in Sacramento at the end of October.

George Flores, senior program manager for The California Endowment and a former Sonoma County health officer during the 1990s, said all the grant recipients had some form of health care-related community partnership similar to Health Action at the heart of their proposals. But he said Sonoma County’s Health Action collaboration “was among the more advanced ones.”

“One of the things that stands out about Sonoma County is its commitment to working with residents of communities in need,” Flores said. “That is important because it takes people who are affected by poor health to create solutions and to address all of the social problems that are involved in leading to poor health.”

The county’s $850,000 grant, which covers a three-year period, will help expand a subgroup of Health Action called Hearts of Sonoma, where private practice and community clinic based health care providers address such things as hypertension control, Milman said.

The effort is unique in that it has competing health care providers and agencies working together to determine the most effective local ways of battling heart disease, she said.

That could include focusing on such things as cardiac rehabilitation programs and nutrition, Milman said, adding that another goal is to help reduce the health care costs associated with heart disease.

Judy Coffey, Kaiser’s senior vice president and area manager for Marin and Sonoma counties, said the initiative is a “great way” to combine Kaiser’s investments from its health plan, hospitals, medical expertise, health research and clinical programs to help those locally at risk of heart disease.

She said Kaiser’s own clinical protocol known as PHASE, for Preventing Heart Attacks and Strokes Everyday, is part of Health Action’s Hearts of Sonoma.

Milman said the grant allows the county to focus more on prevention.

“That’s one of the things we don’t do as well in this country,” she said. “We look for quick cures, we don’t really think broadly about factors that influence health how to work on them and connect them altogether.”

Milman referred to the local initiative as a “pilot” that, if successful, “will be used as a model to do all of our health improvement work...we’re one of a handful of counties that are on the cutting edge of this.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or martin.espinoza@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @renofish.

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