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$4M grant to improve Pima County health literacy, equity in vaccinations

A $4 million federal grant that will help improve people understand and use healthcare information and services in high-risk and underserved areas was formally accepted by Pima County on Tuesday.

The Board of Supervisors approved taking the two-year U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant two weeks after accepting a $6.5 million grant from the CDC to improve equity in COVID testing. Dr. Theresa Cullen, the director of the Pima County Health Department, said the county will use both grants to build on and improve their current efforts in creating health equity.

The $4 million HHS grant will be used to identify best practices for improving health literacy, or the ability to understand and use healthcare information and services, as well as to enhance COVID-19 vaccination and mitigation in underserved population, county officials said.

Cullen said that the county uses a data-driven approach by using statistics from the Arizona Department of Health Services and the Pima County’s COVID data to identify underserved communities and trends towards health disparities. With the $6.5 million CDC grants, Cullen said that it will be used to improve access to testing by delivering test kits to homes including in rural areas, sending public health nurses to underserved areas and creating culturally appropriate communications.

The Board of Supervisors declared health inequities in the county a public health crisis in December with County Administrator Chuck Huckelberry writing in a memo that “Hispanics and Native Americans in Pima County are experiencing disproportionately higher rates of hospitalization, and Hispanics continue to have disproportionately higher rates of of COVID-19 than non-whites.”

Promoting health literacy is part of Healthy People 2030, a 10-year initiative by the HHS to identify public health needs in communities across the country to eliminate health disparities.

Over the next two years, the Health Department will work with community partners to use the two grants in tandem to improve health equity in the county, Cullen said. Similar to the CDC grant, they will use data to target and serve communities where there is the highest risk for low health literacy, according to county officials, and develop a plan to increase the availability and use of COVID-19 information and services by racial and ethnic minority populations and other populations considered vulnerable by the county.

“Through significant engagement with these groups, the (Health) Department and the grant partners will seek to understand their behaviors and decision-making processes and recommend best practices for public health entities and healthcare providers when giving health information,” according to a county press release.

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Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member.

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