Organizations receive grants to fund public health impact assessments

Monday, November 7, 2011 | 11:24 p.m. CST; updated 3:56 p.m. CST, Tuesday, December 20, 2011

COLUMBIA — Two local organizations received a pair of grants worth $300,000 to partner with the Columbia/Boone County Department of Health and Human Services and evaluate how changes to Columbia's public transit system could affect public health.

The PedNet Coalition and Central Missouri Community Action plan to launch a pilot project that would develop a tool to help policymakers become more conscious of health outcomes when making decisions.

Both groups hope to provide quantifiable data that both policymakers and the public can use to be informed about how policies, projects and plans might have an effect on the community's health, PedNet director Ian Thomas said.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation gave PedNet $200,000, and the Missouri Foundation for Health provided the rest of the total to Central Missouri Community Action.

The grants will pay the salary for a trained professional assessment evaluator, Thomas said. Training for the evaluator will be conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or another organization.

"The U.S. government and some foundations are developing this tool to promote health in the communities, and one of those organizations will provide the training," he said.

Thomas said the first thing this person would look at is how expanding public transit three or four times in Columbia will impact health in the community. Thomas said he hopes these assessments become an important tool for the community's decision makers and gain public support.

They also plan to audit businesses with a high number of low-paid jobs to find out how their employees get to work and see if healthier alternatives should be suggested. Possible changes include using the bus or bicycling.

In his six years with CMCA, executive director Darin Preis said he has focused on not only addressing conditions of poverty, but also determining its causes.

"Two root causes of poverty that we've identified are health inequities and transportation issues," he said. "The fact of the matter is the more money you make, the more healthy you are. The less you make, the less healthy you are."

He believes that with most factors that contribute to poverty, access is key.

"Often the access to transportation to the people we serve is very unreliable or inconsistent," he said. "We have a public transit system in Columbia, and I think we can do better by increasing the availability and consistency of services."

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