The lack of access to medical resources has been a longstanding barrier to health equity across Orange County, according to University of California, Irvine Program in Public Health Director Bernadette Boden-Albala.
Language differences and conflicting work schedules present some obstacles, Boden-Albala said. “If you’re working two jobs, for instance, a healthcare program in the middle of the day is not helpful,” she told the Business Journal.
Her program aims to address local public health concerns with the support of a $14 million grant it recently received from Irvine Health Foundation.
The board of directors for the foundation—founded in 1985 to “bring together expertise and investment to improve the health and well-being of the diverse population of Orange County”—counts several UCI ties, including Chairman and UCI Foundation Trustee Timothy Strader, former dean of UCI School of Medicine Dr. Thomas Cesario and UCI Paul Merage School of Business MBA program alumnus Edward Kacic.
Bolden-Albala initially met with the foundation’s board members in 2019, when she first joined UCI, she said.
Over the years, “we’ve talked about a number of different ways to that OC can be this incredible model for public health,” she said. “We have diversity around the county, with some of the wealthiest folks in America and some of the poorest. It has all the problems that everybody else is grappling with.”
The grant will position OC as model for health equity through the support of UCI-led initiatives that will “extend through the community and make a global impact,” Strader said in a statement.
“By investing in us, they’re reinvesting back in the community,” Boden-Albala said.
UCI’s incoming health equity initiatives will be led by faculty recruited through the grant. The funding establishes seven chairs that will feature academic leaders in various areas of health expertise, including nutrition, cardiovascular, aging-induced cognitive impairment and public policy.
“They’ll be tasked with getting out into Orange County, working with our communities, stakeholders and government agencies to identify the public health needs,” Boden-Albala said. “They’ll then plan research and design interventions that are going to, for instance, aid [OC’s aging population], reduce obesity and improve diabetes within the community,” Boden-Albala said.
The grant also supports the public health program’s goal to become a school.
UCI’s Program in Public Health is currently transitioning to become the School of Population and Public Health, which will be housed in the Susan & Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences, located on Michael Drake Drive and California Avenue.
“By giving us this grant, they’re moving us forward to becoming a school even more quickly,” Boden-Albala said.