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Coalition wins huge grant to tackle chronic disease

By pulling in all the community health players, Broward Regional Health Planning Council has won a real plum -- a $1.76 million federal grant that aims to prevent chronic disease.

Broward was the sole Florida winner, competing against a united Orlando area, Tampa Bay, and many others. The
money comes from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Community Transformation Grant program.

Because the program was funded through the Affordable Care Act, which Florida officials oppose and are trying to overturn in court, some applicants worried they wouldn't get the required support from the state Department of Health. But as Health News Florida reported in July, Surgeon General Frank Farmer supplied the letters of support in time for the grant deadline.

It turned out to be a moot question, since the winning health planning council is a non-profit organization, not a state agency.

"This is great news!" council president Mike DeLucca said today in a telephone interview. As to why Broward won, he said, "We wrote a great grant (application)."

He said it includes action against tobacco use, improving access to healthy foods, and changing the structural environment so that Broward County residents can safely be more active.

Prevention and control of chronic diseases is the Holy Grail of contemporary U.S. public health, maybe the only thing that could both save money and improve the quality of life. But so far, health officials have been losing the war on many fronts -- obesity, diabetes, nutrition, exercise -- while some prior successes in smoking reduction and teen pregnancy prevention seem to have stalled.

Of the 61 grants awarded, Broward's was one of 35 that are large enough to cover some costs of implementing the ideas they describe.

Altogether, HHS awarded $103 million in Community Transformation Grants. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention handled the judging.

The winning proposal was called "Transforming our Community's Health," or TOUCH for short. In a press release, the council noted some of the congratulations it has received:

--Health Foundation of South Florida President and CEO Steven E. Marcus said the foundation served on the leadership team for the grant because "we knew this award would help transform prevention to be at the forefront of impacting the health of the nearly 1.8 million residents” of Broward County. (Disclosure: Health Foundation of South Florida is a major funder of and fiscal agent for Health News Florida.)

--From U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Broward: "This is great news that this crucial funding is on its way to South Florida. In the United States, chronic diseases such as heart disease, cancer, and diabetes are some of the leading causes of death, disability, and health care costs, accounting for 75 percent of all medical costs each year.

"Although chronic diseases are among the most common and costly health problems in the country, they are also among the most preventable. I’m grateful to the Broward Regional Planning Council and all of its partners for their efforts to improve the health and well being of South Floridians.”

--From Sue Gunzburger, mayor of Broward County: “Programs developed and supported through this Community Transformation Grant enforce the new realization that personal choice and action play a vital role in our long term health.

"Good health will only be attained by focusing on programs pertaining to prevention and healthy lifestyles, thereby enabling individuals and families to experience a better quality of life.”

--Health News Florida is an independent online publication committed to public-service journalism. Questions or comments can be sent to Editor Carol Gentry. 

Carol Gentry, founder and special correspondent of Health News Florida, has four decades of experience covering health finance and policy, with an emphasis on consumer education and protection.