Board announces $3 million health grant to focus on African American neighborhoods

September 29, 2014

Program director Rachael Banks speaks at Monday's grant announcement celebration as the Board of Commissioners look on

Today the Multnomah County Commissioners announced the Health Department will greatly step up its work to improve nutrition and reduce tobacco use and exposure in areas where African Americans live.  The initiative is being funded by a three-year, $3 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Research shows that a person’s social, physical and economic surroundings make a much bigger difference in their health than how often they see a doctor. The grant will cover the county, but focus on increasing tobacco- and nicotine-free areas, breastfeeding and access to healthy food in Rockwood, Gresham, North and Northeast Portland.

Commissioner Loretta Smith announced the grant after recent reports and news stories on grave and growing differences in the community.  More African Americans in Multnomah County die of preventable diseases like diabetes, lung cancer and heart disease than their neighbors. As babies, they’re born earlier and smaller. As adults, they live in neighborhoods with fewer parks, sidewalks and full-service grocery stores.

Chair Kafoury (left) and Commissioner Smith are all smiles following the announcement of a $3 million health grant to focus on African American neighborhoods.

"I want to be clear that poverty is not an accident,'' said Commissioner Jules Bailey. "Racial disparities are not an accident. Injustices are not an accident. Far too often it is the result of disinvestment. Of policies that rip our community apart. Too often these are the result of apathy."

"Today,'' Bailey said, "we can start to reverse that trend."

Racism, redlining, gentrification and unhealthy neighborhoods have had real health consequences for families in our community, says Health Department Director Joanne Fuller. The grant will help staff work with the community and across the county to knock down the barriers to good health.

Rachael Banks, program director, said the county’s key partners include the community coalition ACHIEVE, the City of Gresham; Urban League of Portland, Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon, Upstream Public Health; African American Health Coalition; and Highland/Haven Church.

“This is a community with incredible strengths that has survived despite all these challenges and their continual work and resilience will be the cornerstone of our prevention efforts,’’ Banks said.

Commissioner Diane McKeel said the work affects, "all of Multnomah County and that's why it's so important that cities like Gresham and other agencies in East County are involved."

The Racial and Ethnic Approaches to Community Health, or REACH, award is funded in part by the Prevention and Public Health Fund of the Affordable Care Act.

“This grant to the Multnomah County Health Department is both welcome and well deserved,’’ said U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden. “Not only will these funds strengthen our ability to provide care to African Americans with chronic conditions such as diabetes and heart disease, they’ll also be used to promote healthy nutrition and to protect people from the dangers of tobacco.

Tenora Grigsby, left, and community health nurse Monique Allen, await news of the grant.

Multnomah County has been a leader on all these efforts over the years and this will allow them to redouble their efforts to bring about a more healthy community.”

U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley sent a congratulatory letter which staff member Jeanne Atkins read in support of the county for confronting the disparities. "Chronic diseases are among the most major challenges we face in health policy today. Diseases like diabetes and heart disease are not only costly and burdensome for our health care system, they seriously impact the quality of life for thousands of individuals in our community.''

Health department data and news reports have chronicled widening cradle to grave differences in how African Americans fare. A community-wide assessment by all Portland Metro-area hospitals and counties found that top barriers to African Americans living a healthier lifestyle included lack of access to healthy food choices and the prevalence of tobacco advertising and youths taking up smoking.

More than 1 in 10 African Americans have diabetes, or twice as many as whites and diabetes deaths are three times.

Chair Deborah Kafoury said that, as a community, "we must improve education, employment, and housing for all of our citizens in a way that reduces racism and inequality. We must ensure that the neighborhoods families of color live in are filled with the same opportunities for health and the same hope and promise some of us enjoy.

And today I am proud to say, that Multnomah County is leading the way with the fantastic work of our Health Department. We are taking the stand that this county should be the best place in the country to be born, to grow up and grow old...for everyone."