An award recognizing Louisville for its “Culture of Health” has led to the creation of a $150,000 fund to improve public health in the city, where life expectancy can vary by more than a dozen years from neighborhood to neighborhood.

Two $20,000 grants will be awarded next month from the Louisville Health Equity Fund, a pool of money that will be used to address obstacles highlighted in the city’s 2017 Health Equity Report.

Aja A. Barber, manager, Center for Health Equity

The initial round of funding will go for grants that focus on education, which is a key component to achieving good health, said Aja Barber, manager of the local Center for Health Equity.

People who have higher levels of education have “a much greater quality of life” than people who are less educated, Barber said. “People are able to have much more meaningful access to employment and income and more meaningful access to preventive health care services as well as mental-health services … and that opens up their ability to maintain and enjoy a healthy quality of life.”

Nonprofits that meet certain criteria have until March 5 to apply for the initial grants and the winners will be notified late that month.

The Health Equity Fund was started with $25,000 in prize money from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and grew to $150,000 thanks to contributions from the Community Foundation of Louisville, the Jewish Heritage Fund for Excellence, the Humana Foundation and Metro United Way.

Louisville earned the initial money by winning RWJF’s Culture of Health Prize in 2016. The seven winning communities were chosen for their efforts to make sure all residents had a chance to thrive. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation was particularly impressed with how well groups in Louisville collaborate “to put good health within everyone’s reach,” it noted at the time of the award.

But there are still are a number of hurdles that people face, such as limited transportation and a scarcity of major grocery stores in some areas, such as west Louisville, according to the Health Equity Report released late last year.

The new fund will provide at least $40,000 a year for the next three years to “reduce health inequities” and “improve health outcomes,” according to a news release.

Eleven “root causes” for health outcomes were identified in the Health Equity Report. They include such things as early childhood development, education, housing, food systems, environmental quality and criminal justice.

“The data is very clear that if we’re going to try to improve the lives of the people who live in Louisville, then we need to be focused on the root causes,” Barber said.

In a process that primarily focused on west and south Louisville, the center — which is a division of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness — spent January getting feedback from 200 residents on how to prioritize the root causes. Education rose to the top.

“For residents, education is inclusive of early childhood through postgraduate education and is intricately linked to other root causes,” the center notes online. “For example, concerns were raised about students being hungry, having limited access to needed technology, or feeling unsafe due to bullying. … There were also concerns about lack of student representation within decision-making processes and choosing curriculum content.”

Groups that decide to apply for the grants can focus on young kids or older students, even up to the postgraduate level, Barber said. “We know that together we have all of the resources … to improve our public health.”


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