SANTA ROSA -- The county of Sonoma received $3.5 million in funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for efforts related to early implementation of health care reform.

The Community Transformation Grants award is one of just 40 nationwide, totaling $70 million, according to the county's announcement today.

"This is a groundbreaking example of local communities benefiting from federal health care reform," Supervisor Shirlee Zane said in a statement. "Our innovation and partnership here in Sonoma County set us apart, and the federal government clearly recognizes our efforts as worthy of its investment. These funds will improve the health of everyone in our community as we build a focused prevention effort."

The county said programs such as Health Action, a public-private effort to improve community health, was instrumental in securing the grant. Health Action will also serve as a blueprint for future efforts that the grant will go toward, including education, access to care and community resources.

The county said it will leverage a wide network of community partners to turn its proposal into action, investing more than half the grant funds into local service providers and community organizations and using remaining funds used to bolster county programs.

Specific projects included:increasing the number of "baby-friendly" hospitals,more school staff training to integrate physical activity into the school day,expanding the Safe Routes to School program,supporting the local food system by bringing fresh farm produce to schools and providing financial incentives for low-income individuals and families to purchase fresh farm produce,developing nutritional standards for county foodservice; launching a media campaign aimed to reduce the consumption of sugar sweetened beverages and tobacco use,training youth in suicide prevention and training planners, policy makers, and architects in healthy community design. 

"By focusing on where people live, work, learn and play, this grant will improve the health of many individuals, contribute to our vibrant community, and help build the environment and systems needed for everyone to live healthier lives," said Rita Scardaci, director of county Health Services.

Targets for the grants are low-income, Hispanic/Latino and youth populations, with special attention to underserved rural areas, pregnant women and newborns.

The program is funded through the Affordable Care Act's Prevention and Public Health Fund, designed to support areas with fewer than 500,000 people in neighborhoods, school districts, villages, towns, cities and counties.