NOVATO -- Sutter Health has contributed $10 million to the Marin Community Foundation to establish the Sutter Health Access to Care Fund. The partnership between the two organizations aims to increase the availability of primary care health services to uninsured and underinsured Marin County residents that rely on the county's community clinics as a health care safety net.

The new fund, directed by the foundation, will distribute $2 million in grants each year for the next five years with the first grants to be announced in May. Nonprofits eligible for support will be contacted and invited to apply.

Grants will support efforts to increase the number of patients served by community clinics, fund purchase of equipment, extend hours of services, support health prevention programs and help provide health insurance to children without coverage.

"This funding initiative is a significant contribution to the health and well-being of every resident in Marin," said Marin Community Foundation President Thomas Peters. "When you have a county in which many are struggling, and where four of every 10 people do not receive health insurance from their employer, it's clear that the need for quality, affordable and culturally appropriate health care is greater than ever."

There has been steady growth in the number of Marin residents with little or no health insurance and older residents with increasing health care needs, according to Dr. Peters.

"A vibrant, nonprofit system of accessible health care is a critical piece of our county's overall health system, and this is exactly what the Sutter Health initiative will address," said Larry Meredith, director of the Marin County Department of Health and Human Services.

Increasing the capacity of community-based health organizations will help reduce the burden on crowded, local emergency rooms, said Dr. Meredith.