Local News

Transformation grants target policy over programs

The Affordable Care Act has received a lot of media attention this spring, as the US Supreme Court deliberates on the merits of the so-called “personal mandate.”

But the Act has many other components intended to help reduce the overall demand for health care in the country.

Last year, the Southeast Alaska Regional Health Consortium received a half-million dollars in Affordable Care Act funding to bring about policy changes in organizations – changes that could have a permanent impact on health.

Martha Pearson is a grant manager at SEARHC in Sitka.

“Time and time again I’ve seen in Southeast Alaska how people say, Oh, that was a great program, but so-and-so left. Or, Oh, that was a really fun thing, but then we lost our funding, and it went away.”

Pearson says SEARHC plans to distribute its Affordable Care Act funding over the next five years in a series of much smaller “Community Transformation Grants.”

The amounts range from $5,000 to $25,000.

The program is a major paradigm shift for this kind of health funding. It’s not about building a new playground, or paying for the mobile mammogram van to go to a certain community. Pearson says it’s more about…

“Helping to build sustained – even permanent – policies on an organizational level. So these would be rules that an organization has: How does it provide food for students in the school system, how does it treat its employees in terms of breaks they get for exercise, or to work on wellness activities.”

Pearson ran SEARHC’s Wisewoman Program for years, and says it took her and her colleagues a while to understand the difference between programming and policy.

The US Centers for Disease Control has produced a 16-page booklet with ideas for creating policies to promote tobacco-free living, active living, and healthy eating. The ideas range from instituting standards-based PE instruction in schools, to protecting people from second-hand smoke, and making it easier for people to walk and ride bikes.

Pearson says making policy changes doesn’t have to be complicated.

“What are the things that influence – in a person’s daily life – whether they can make healthier changes or not?”

Another shift in thinking in the transformation grants is the emphasis on community. Typically, federal funding this large might land in Southeast Alaska with a more global purpose – to reduce the rate of adult diabetes, for instance.

Pearson says this $500,000 will be distributed from the ground up.

“SEARHC might not know what’s going to work in Yakutat, or might not know exactly what’s going to go over well in Hydaburg. So, the community groups from those places are being invited to be the ones that figure it out. They know what’s going to work locally, and what the organizations are interested in, and where the energy is right now.”

Because the funding is being routed through SEARHC, a tribal organization, Pearson says policy changes that affect the lives of Southeast’s tribal citizens will have preference for the grants. But she also acknowledges that Southeast is tight-knit, and the same health issues can affect almost everyone. She has hard time imagining a non-profit or community group that would not qualify.

The application deadline for this first year of Community Transformation Grants is June 1. The short application can be downloaded online at SEARHC’s website.

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