Santa Cruz County is one of 11 finalists for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Roadmaps to Health Prize, officials at the United Way of Santa Cruz County announced Monday.
"I'm excited," said Megan Joseph, community organizer with the local United Way, noting a team will visit Santa Cruz County in the next six weeks to gather information before making a decision. "They're looking for best practices to replicate."
Up to six of the finalists will be awarded $25,000 for their efforts and accomplishments at the forefront of health improvement. Winners, to be announced in early 2012, will be selected by the national County Health Roadmaps Advisory Group, which is affiliated with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.
Applicants were required to highlight four accomplishments representing a shift in from thinking about improving individual health to thinking about how to improve community health "by making healthy choices the easy choices."
The Santa Cruz County application highlighted these efforts:
- Together for Youth and the social host ordinance: This 10-year-old collaborative responded to a 2007 survey indicating 42 percent of high school juniors had drank in the past month and complaints from Santa Cruz homeowners tired of unruly parties in their neighborhood attended by more than 100 young people, teens as well as university students. A social host ordinance was adopted in 2008 by all but one jurisdiction. Last year, Santa Cruz used the ordinance to visit 128 parties and issue 74 citations and 28 warnings to party hosts. A 2010 survey found a 5 percent decrease in drinking among 11th graders.
- Go For Health/Jovenes SANOS and the Watsonville healthy restaurant ordinance: The Go For Health county collaborative developed Jovenes Sanos, a leadership group for Latino youth in Watsonville. Concerned about the number of fast food outlets in the city, the youth surveyed 21 food outlets near their high school, finding 40 percent were skimpy on healthy menu choices. They surveyed community members, finding 78 percent thought too many fast-food restaurants were located near schools and parks. Armed with data and personal stories, the youth appealed to the City Council. A task force developed an ordinance requiring new restaurants to offer healthy menu choices. Since the ordinance was adopted two years ago, the city has issued permits to five new restaurants.
- Healthy Kids of Santa Cruz County: Out of a 2004 summit of 100 local leaders, which focused attention on 5,000 uninsured children, came a locally funded plan for children not eligible for other public programs such as Healthy Families and MediCal. A family of four can earn up to $69,000 a year and be eligible for Healthy Kids, which has affordable premiums. More than 21,000 children have been enrolled in Healthy Families, MediCal and Healthy Kids, giving them with a place to go for preventive care. Well child visits for 3- to 6-year-olds are up 18 percent, and adolescent well care visits 15 percent.
- Smart on Crime and the sheriff's Custody Alternatives Program: Sheriff Phil Wowak worked with this coalition to create less costly alternatives for low-level offenders rather than expand jail beds; it costs $31,025 a year to house someone in jail. The program, launched in October, has more than 300 people on "work release" and 52 people on electronic monitoring and saved the county $5 million. The success rate exceeds 90 percent. In one case, a man convicted of driving with a suspended license broke the law to work to support his family. Instead of spending four months in jail, he was sentenced to electronic monitoring.