The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced Tuesday that San Antonio is one of four communities nationwide to receive the 2018 Culture of Health Prize for its commitment to health equity.

The public health philanthropy’s highest honor, which includes a $25,000 prize, recognizes efforts to ensure all residents have the opportunity to live healthier lives.

San Antonio Metropolitan Health Director Colleen Bridger told the Rivard Report that local efforts to improve the health and well-being of San Antonio residents were noted by the foundation. Those efforts include Pre-K 4 SA, improved and expanded parks and recreation facilities, the San Antonio Police Department’s mental health unit, and Bexar County Municipal Court’s truancy programs.

“When you ask the average person to name health programs, they won’t name any of those,” Bridger said, “but we know that education is the single biggest predictor of how healthy a person will be. So when you think about truancy prevention, it makes perfect sense that those programs are considered health initiatives.”

To earn the recognition, San Antonio had to demonstrate a commitment to long-term policy-oriented health equity solutions, a collaborative community effort to secure and make the most of available resources, and ongoing data collection efforts to measure progress.

The other three communities receiving prizes in 2018 are Cicero, Illinois; Eatonville, Florida; and Klamath County, Oregon. San Antonio joins Brownsville as the second Texas community to win the Culture of Health Prize.

Since its inception in 2013, the prize has gone to 36 communities across the country pursuing innovative ideas to address barriers to improved health. More than 200 communities applied for consideration in 2018.

“For the first time, equity is the lodestar of public policy at City Hall,” San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a statement.

“This recognition affirms that we are making real progress for the people of San Antonio, improving public health and expanding equal opportunity to all,” Nirenberg added, noting that the City will continue to work toward delivering results based on data to influence better health outcomes.

Foundation officials recognized the City of San Antonio’s Equity office for putting policies in place to reduce disparities regarding access to health care,  City leaders for focusing budget priorities on neighborhoods and populations that historically were underserved, and Haven for Hope and other organizations for providing critical support for individuals in crisis because of homelessness or mental health problems.

Joe Marx, the foundation’s director of program communications, will present the Culture of Health Prize to San Antonio leaders at the Witte Museum on Tuesday, Sept. 18, at 10 a.m.

The City plans to spend the $25,000 prize money to hire someone to document San Antonio’s effort toward achieving city-wide health equity in a meaningful and compelling way, Bridger said.

“This just shows that we are continuing to be recognized for the great work the city has been doing for over a decade to really help address the health inequities and challenges we have in our city,” Bridger said.

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.