Merced County is located in the northern San Joaquin Valley section of the Central Valley, in California. Merced County is a medium-sized, agriculture-based, rural county emerging slowly from negative economic impacts of the 2008 recession. The county’s population of 268,455 represents a 26% growth from the 2000 Census, with most residents living in small urban centers. The county’s population is relatively young, with a median age of 30.2 years, and diverse, with more than 70% of residents of color. Nearly 52% of the county’s population speaks a language other than English at home.
Today, more than half of the county’s population receives health care coverage through the Medicaid program. For children 18 years of age and under living in poverty, Merced County ranks 56th, near the bottom of California’s 58 counties.
Significant racial and ethnic disparities exist in the county, and can be seen in socioeconomic status, employment and educational opportunities, as well as in health outcomes.
Merced County’s Department of Public Health has adopted equity as one of its core values and has focused its work on addressing the social determinants of health as the means to advancing health and wellness in the broadest sense for Merced County residents.
Public Health works with a broad array of community partners and has committed to working with its partners to understand how racism and other forms of “isms” harm not only individuals, but the entire community.
Taking small steps, Public Health is beginning its journey and engaging other county departments and community organizations in dialogue and action to address social inequities.
The Public Health Department participated in the 2016 Northern California GARE cohort with an “inside” focus to build the Department’s capacity to address racial equity with the following goals:
- Develop framework for racial equity work.
- Provide training opportunities for staff that address racial equity.
- Use System Design tools to plan programs and update or develop policies and procedures that incorporate racial equity elements.
- Institute communication strategies that include equity as a foundational element of the Department’s public health practice.
In 2017, the Public Health Department has returned as a member of the Northern California GARE cohort and has engaged additional county departments – Behavioral Health and Recovery Services, Child Support Services, Social Services and Probation – as team members.
Additionally, Public Health staff are also participating in a regional 2017 Northern California GARE cohort made up of Public Health Departments from across the San Joaquin Valley.
With small steps, but big plans, Merced County Public Health has committed to contributing to a future where all Merced County residents have an equal opportunity to thrive.