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Regional counties earn SHIP funding

JACKSON -- Jackson and Cottonwood are two of six southwest Minnesota counties to benefit from the second round of Statewide Health Improvement Program (SHIP) grants awarded by the Minnesota Department of Health earlier this month.

Spearheaded in 2008, SHIP is part of Minnesota's bipartisan health care reform package to reduce obesity and tobacco use.

"To improve health in Minnesota, we have to think in terms of prevention, not just treatment," said Minnesota Health Commissioner Dr. Edward Ehlinger in a press release. "In Minnesota and nationally, the two main causes of chronic disease and premature death are obesity, caused by poor nutrition and insufficient physical activity, and commercial tobacco use."

Cottonwood and Jackson counties partnered with south-central Minnesota counties of Faribault, Martin and Watonwan in the application process to receive $590,000. The grant will continue health initiatives for the next 18 months.

Chera Sevcik, SHIP coordinator for the five-county project, explained that the 2011 legislature substantially reduced the SHIP appropriation -- by 70 percent -- to $15 million, making it more competitive for grant applicants.

Bonnie Frederickson, SHIP coordinator for Cottonwood-Jackson-Redwood-Renville for 2009 to 2011, explained that both Renville and Redwood counties decided to re-apply for SHIP grants with counties in closer proximity.

Mini grant applications beginning Jan. 1 will be available to interested organizations to start or continue health and wellness programs. Individual counties will have a steering committee to provide local guidance. A five-county community leadership team will oversee the entire SHIP program.

"We have less to work with more next year but we're excited to continue the program," Sevcik said.

An area of interest for the biennium is to initiate a food policy council to incorporate locally grown produce into restaurant menus. Sevcik added that there is intent to improve nutrition labels and help restaurants promote healthier food.

In the schools, mini grants will promote increased physical activity by means of continuing Safe Routes to School, a program designed to encourage students to walk or cycle to school.

"We also want to work with teachers to include activity time during breaks," Sevcik added. "We'll continue to work with campuses to provide cessation support as they work toward becoming tobacco-free."

Frederickson explained that during the first round of SHIP, there was cooperation with Minnesota West Community and Technical College to make all locations tobacco-free.

Other health improvements will be conducted at work sites and new housing.

"We want to work with landlords and property managements to create tobacco-free housing," Sevcik detailed.

With the new round of funding, Sevcik said there will be a focus of promoting nutrition and discouraging tobacco use among the disparate populations.

"It becomes very clear when you look at chronic diseases that people with lower income or education are some of the indicators," Frederickson added.

Elsewhere, Nobles, Rock, Pipestone and Murray counties were also awarded SHIP grants.