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Researchers will dig into census data to address Orange County health, social gaps

Orange County will have a new tool to help direct its response to the health and social welfare disparities that have made Latinos and other minority groups disproportionately susceptible to the ravages of the COVID-19 public health threat.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, July 28, awarded a nonprofit called Advance OC a $385,000 contract to aggregate over the next five months Orange County-centric data from the census, studies of local populations and conditions, and other indicators for a microscopic look at where health and socioeconomic gaps exist down to the ZIP code level.

The outcome is expected to drive more effective measures to improve the daily lives of the most vulnerable Orange County residents – with pinpoint precision. The work of Advance OC goes hand-in-hand with an effort the county began in May on its Latino Health Equity Initiative to better inform residents and curb community transmission as coronavirus hot spots emerged in Santa Ana and Anaheim.

The county has been ramping up testing and outreach in the hot spots, which are typically low-income neighborhoods where people live more densely in multi-generation households, are more likely to have underlying health conditions, use public transportation and hold jobs that put them at greater risk of contracting the disease.

First District Supervisor Andrew Do, championed Advance OC, even though he described how it took more than one meeting to fully grasp their proposal. Do said the results of what the nonprofit promises to deliver should help officials “make better use of data in terms of policy-making decisions.”

Do’s district includes Santa Ana, the city with the highest number and highest rate of coronavirus cases in Orange County, and the largest slice of the county’s Latino population. COVID-19 ripped the bandages off health disparities nationwide as the disease disproportionately impacts Latino, Black and other minority communities.

Advance OC will work closely with the Orange County Health Care Agency and its director, Dr. Clayton Chau, who also serves as the county’s interim public health officer. A report is due by the end of December.

Advance OC was launched last year by three local women – Sister Thuy Tran, who works for Providence St. Joseph Health at Mission Hospital; Nazy Fouladirad, a tech expert who is chief operating officer of digital management consulting firm Tevora Inc.; and Katie Kalvoda, who founded and managed a highly successful family investment firm and real estate portfolio before turning to progressive political causes in 2016 and launching the nonprofit 3G Ventures that specializes in innovative philanthropy, impact investments and community advocacy.

Their goal is to use national, state and local data to understand how to close the gap between those who thrive and those who struggle in Orange County – information that can be deployed by both public policymakers and big-donor philanthropists eager to see clear results.

Advance OC focuses on social equity mapping, a micro examination of health determinants and socioeconomic indicators charted on graphics that can track the progress (or lack of progress) made by public and private efforts aimed at diminishing disparities. Existing census data serves as a baseline.

Advance OC was the brainchild of Kalvoda, the daughter of immigrants who lost their family wealth when they fled Vietnam at the Fall of Saigon. Kalvoda, a graduate of UC Berkeley, gives an example of how social equity mapping would work in the case of tracking malnutrition. If the mapping tool determines that an area is a food desert – where access to groceries and fresh produce is extremely limited – a city can work with a company to bring healthy meals to the community or an existing nonprofit to serve meals to isolated families.

“Once the problem is identified,” Kalvoda said, “funders can micro-target neighborhoods of greatest need and track their progress over time.”

Fouladirad devised the digital tool that Advance OC will use to dive into data on such basic measures as nutrition and medical care, water and sanitation, housing, traffic safety and crime, basic and advanced education, access to technology, obesity rates and diabetes prevalence, voter registration, walkable neighborhoods, and gender pay gaps.

“The tool was built to measure real things that matter to real people,” Fouladirad said.

Advance OC hopes to eventually partner with the Washington, D.C.-based Social Progress Imperative, which has created a social progress index that compares the quality of life for ordinary Americans in all 50 states and similar projects in other places around the world.

When it comes to the coronavirus, Kaldova added, “If we can overlay this type of map on COVID cases, we might be able to track where it’s heading and be more proactive.”

But transparency is a must, especially at the street level, Sister Tran said: “The community has to have access to the data so they know what’s going on in their neighborhoods.”

Source: Orange County Register

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