Category Archives: Healthy communities

Mar 26 2014
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‘A Starting Point for Change’: Fifth Edition of the County Health Rankings Released Today

The fifth edition of the County Health Rankings, released today, continues to show that where we live matters to our health. The 2014 edition of the County Health Rankings finds that large gaps remain between the least healthy and the healthiest counties.

>>View the webcast of the 12:30 p.m. ET release of the new rankings here.

The County Health Rankings, first released in 2010, are a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the University Of Wisconsin Population Health Institute. They allow each state to see how its counties compare on 29 factors that impact health, including smoking, high school graduation rates, unemployment, physical inactivity and access to healthy foods.

What makes a community healthy or unhealthy? Go behind the County Health Rankings to find out.

 “The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s vision for a culture of health is one where everyone has the opportunity to be healthy,” said Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, RWJF president and CEO. “The County Health Rankings are a starting point for change, helping communities come together, identify priorities and create solutions that will help all in our diverse society live healthier lives now and for generations to come.”

This year’s County Health Rankings report shows some important trends, including:

  • Teen birth rates have decreased about 25 percent since 2007.
  • The rate of preventable hospital stays decreased about 20 percent from 2003 to 2011.
  • Smoking rates dropped from 21 percent in 2005 to 18 percent in 2012.
  • Completion of at least some college attendance increased slightly from 59 percent in 2005 to 64 percent in 2012.

This year’s report also features several new measures:

  • Housing: Almost 1 in 5 households are overcrowded, pose a severe cost burden, or lack adequate facilities to cook, clean, or bathe. These problems are greatest on the East and West coasts, in Alaska, and in parts of the South.
  • Transportation: More than three-quarters of workers drive to work alone and among them 33 percent drive longer than a half hour each way. Driving contributes to physical inactivity, obesity and air pollution.
  • Food Environment: People in many parts of the country face food insecurity (or the threat of hunger) and limited access to healthy foods, especially in counties in the Southwest, across parts of the South and in the Western United States.
  • Mental Health: Amid growing attention to mental health care, the availability of mental health providers in the healthiest counties in each state is 1.3 times higher than in the least healthy counties. The west and northeast regions of the country have the best access to mental health providers.
  • Injury-Related Deaths: The third-leading cause of death in the United States, injury death rates are 1.7 times higher in the least healthy counties than in the healthiest counties. These rates are particularly high in the Southwest, part of the Northwest (including Alaska) and in the East South Central and Appalachian regions.
  • Exercise Opportunities: Access to parks or recreational facilities in the healthiest counties is 1.4 times higher than in the least healthy counties.

“The County Health Rankings show us how health is influenced by our everyday surroundings—where we live, learn, work and play,” said Bridget Caitlin, PhD, MHSA, director of the County Health Rankings. The County Health Rankings often provide the spark for business, community planners, policy-makers, public health, parents and others to work together for better health.”

>>Bonus Links:

  • The County Health Rankings is part of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps, which includes the Roadmaps to Health Action Center which provides local leaders with tools, guides and stories to help communities identify and implement solutions that make it easier for people to live healthy lives
  • The County Health Rankings & Roadmaps also includes the annual RWJF Culture of Health Prize, which celebrates communities that are harnessing the collective power of leaders, partners and stakeholders to build cultures of health.

The 2014 RWJF Culture of Health Prize winners and the call for 2014-2015 prize applications will be announced in June at the Aspen Ideas Festival, Spotlight: Health.

Feb 24 2014
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County Health Rankings & Roadmaps Grants: The Early Learning Network in South Salt Lake, Utah

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The County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, will celebrate its fifth anniversary next month. In the last few months, NewPublicHealth has been reporting on the work of programs grantees that are making changes in their communities to help improve population health.

Utah’s Salt Lake County ranks 20th out of 27 counties in social and economic factors. Its high school graduation rate is 72 percent, below the state rate of 76 percent. Approximately 19 percent of the county’s children live in poverty, compared with 16 percent state wide.

South Salt Lake, a city in Salt Lake County, has many resources and assets that make it a great place to live. However, the city’s residents also deal with challenges similar to those faced by individuals living in the elsewhere in the country. Nearly half of South Salt Lake’s residents live in homes with annual household incomes less than $35,000. Among similar-sized communities in Utah, South Salt Lake has some of the highest rates of obesity, chronic cigarette smoking, binge drinking, mental illness and prescription drug abuse. In previous years, South Salt Lake has had the highest rate of violent crime in Utah, but over the past three years the city has noticed a 76 percent decrease in gang-related juvenile crime and a drop in overall crime of 23 percent.

In spite of these challenges, the schools, community partners and the City of South Salt Lake share a common goal to ensure all of the city’s kids are performing on grade level, graduating high school and pursuing a post-secondary opportunity. To create a foundation to allow children to achieve these goals, United Way of Salt Lake, the City of South Salt Lake and numerous other partners have created the Early Learning Network, a comprehensive, integrated early learning system for children from birth to age five. The program is critical because research shows that evidence-based investments in children from birth to age five improve school readiness; lower rates of crime, teen pregnancy, substance abuse and obesity; are essential to academic achievement; and have a direct impact on people’s health and financial well-being.

The goal of the Early Learning Network is to make sure that by the time a child enters kindergarten, he or she will be ready to learn.

The Early Learning Network is a recipient of a County Health Rankings and Roadmaps community grant. Grantees are funded to work with diverse coalitions of policy-makers, business, education, health care, public health and community organizations to improve the education system in ways that also better the health of the community. Roadmaps to Health grants support more than two dozen projects across the United States that aim to create healthier places for individuals and families to thrive. The Roadmaps to Health Community Grants project is a critical component of the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Elizabeth Garbe and Chris Ellis of United Way of Salt Lake.

NewPublicHealth: Tell us about the Early Learning Network.

Chris Ellis: The Early Learning Network is a coalition of early childhood providers, basic needs groups, government agencies and health organizations. The primary goals of the group are to ensure that kids are demonstrating age-appropriate development and entering kindergarten ready to learn. The Early Learning Network is focused on a specific geography, the City of South Salt Lake. It is a great example of collective impact, as non-profits, businesses and government agencies are working together to determine the most effective way to support children ages 0-5 in this community.

The Network has discussed baseline measures to better understand what services are needed to support the community. Collecting data to set a baseline is essential in order to demonstrate whether we are making any progress on our two goals.

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Jan 31 2014
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In San Diego, a Big Push for Better Health

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Many of the sessions at the National Association of Counties (NACo) Health Initiatives Forum meeting in San Diego this week have been moderated by Nick Macchione, director of San Diego’s Health and Human Services Agency and vice chair of the Healthy Counties Initiative Advisory Board. Macchione is a key architect of Live Well San Diego, a program voted in by the San Diego Board of Supervisors that is a long term, comprehensive and innovative strategy on wellness with a goal of helping all San Diego County residents become healthy, safe and thriving.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Nick Macchione ahead of the forum. Senior Policy Advisor Julie Howell and Dale Fleming, director of strategic planning and operational support, joined the conversation.

NewPublicHealth: The buzz about San Diego is that you’re working hard toward population health improvement.

Nick Macchione: I think the excitement about San Diego is that we have earned a reputation as a health innovation zone by having a collective impact on health and wellness. Our deeds demonstrate our words because over the past decade there have been five major broad-based population health improvements: reduction of heart disease and stroke; reduction of cancer rates; reduction of childhood obesity; reduction of infant mortality; and reduction of children in foster care. That reduction is extremely important to population health because we also look at the social determinants of health and not just pure health care.

We've taken an ecological approach to population health—working with partners across all sectors and coming together not just from traditional health care but beyond that to public health, social services, business, community, schools and the faith community.

And we’ve done that in the context of optimizing existing resources to improve outcomes. We’ve been blessed with a lot of competitive federal grants and philanthropy investments, but really the framework is how we leverage and optimize what we have first before we go and seek to augment with other resources. That has worked exceptionally well and that’s earned us that innovation zone reputation.

NPH: Tell us about Live Well San Diego.

Macchione: Live Well San Diego is a comprehensive public health initiative that involves widespread community partnerships to address the root causes of illness and rising health care costs. The tagline is healthy, safe and thriving. We think it’s a great template that communities can use, it’s transferable because San Diego has every imaginable bio-climate except a tropical rainforest. So we have desert towns, we have rural communities, we have mountain villages, we have beach towns and everything in between urban core. We also call it Project 1 Percent because 1 percent of San Diego represents the nation both in its diversity and its population. So, if we can achieve what we're achieving on advancing population based health in a broad scale it can be demonstrated throughout the country.

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Jan 29 2014
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NewPublicHealth Q&A: Linda Langston, National Association of Counties

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This week the National Association of Counties (NACo) will hold the fourth Healthy Communities Initiative Forum, in San Diego, bringing together county health directors and staff to share best practices to improve community health. The NACo Healthy Counties Initiative supports innovative public-private partnerships to enhance community health.

Ahead of the conference, NewPublicHealth spoke with Linda Langston, president of NACo and Supervisor of Linn County, Iowa, who will be attending and presenting at the conference.

NewPublicHealth: Tell us about the Healthy Counties Initiative.

Linda Langston: I was the first chair of the initiative when it came into being four years ago. We modeled it after what we had done with our Green Government initiative—we had local government elected officials and staff connected to various areas of health, and then we also populated the committee with some of our corporate sponsors that were ultimately working toward very similar kinds of goals and trying to figure out how we could work affectively together.

We're also helping people understand upcoming issues and ideas they may know about.

NPH: What are the key health issues that counties face in 2014 and how is NACo generally helping counties with those issues?

Langston: Many counties are responsible for safety-net services and virtually every county in the nation has a jail. We’ve learned that many people, including many federal legislators, don’t understand the difference between jails and prisons. Jails are unique to local government, at the county level, and are often where people who have been arrested but can’t afford bail wait until their trial dates. Our challenges include providing health care in the jails, as well as connecting those released to health services in the community, with a goal of continuity for such services as mental health care and treatment for substance abuse.

We are also employers and very often, particularly in small-to-medium-sized counties, we are the largest employer in the area. So we have a lot of employees who need our best efforts, such as looking at how to incentivize people to make good decisions about their own health. And, of course, we also have the community public health responsibility. So we're pretty effectively placed to deal with all things related to health.

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Jan 15 2014
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New Report by RWJF Commission to Build a Healthier America Calls for Funding Changes to Help Improve the Health of the Nation

Recommendations released by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Commission to Build a Healthier America yesterday call for three areas of change essential to improving the nation's health:

  1. Increasing access to early childhood development programs;
  2. Revitalizing low-income neighborhoods;
  3. Broadening the mission of health care providers beyond medical treatment to include the social problems their patients face that keep them from living healthy lives.

The Commission, which reconvened last June after four years, deliberated over the past several months and determined that these areas have the greatest potential for improving the health of the population, especially for low-income families.

The independent, non-partisan Commission was chaired by Alice M. Rivlin, PhD, former director of the Office of Management and Budget, and Mark McClellan, MD, PhD, the former head of the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Commission members included journalists, physicians, academics, policymakers, public health experts and people engaged in community development.

The new recommendations are part of a new report, Time to Act: Investing in the Health of Our Children and Communities.

“We cannot improve health by putting more resources into health care alone," McClellan said. "We must find ways to help more Americans stay healthy and reduce the health care costs that are crowding out other national priorities."

"To achieve a healthier America, we must change our approach to investing in health to affect the actual determinants of health, not just the consequences of ill-health," said Rivlin. "If carried out, these recommendations will build a foundation of lifelong health for generations to come."

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Speaking at the release of the recommendations in Washington, D.C., yesterday RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA, said, “we must join forces to foster a culture of health in which everyone—regardless of where they live, their race or ethnicity, or how poor or wealthy they may be—has the opportunity to lead a healthy life." 

The Commission’s members all spoke about the findings and recommendations during panel discussions at an event at the Newseum to release the report. Suggested next steps include engaging both citizens and policymakers to advance the issues. “Often aspiring policymakers are looking for an issue and we’re trying to hand them one,” said Rivin. Anne Warhover, a member of the Commission and president and CEO of the Colorado Health Foundation, pointed out that turning the recommendations into successful actions will include helping each community determine both what it needs and what it can do, and realizing that “one size does not fit all” when it comes to these changes.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, said Lavizzo-Mourey, “will make the [Commission’s report] our compass going forward to allow everyone to live a healthy life. It’s not going to stay on the shelf. We’re going to use this every day.”

>>Bonus Links:

  • Resources created to accompany the release of the recommendations of the Commission to Build a Healthier America include video interviews with key leaders who are already helping to change the health of their communities.
Nov 20 2013
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How Do You Transform a Community After a Century of Neglect?

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Bithlo, Fla. is a town of 8,000 that is just 30 minutes outside Orlando and not much farther from the “happiest place on Earth” — but is beset by poverty, illiteracy, unemployment and toxic dumps that have infiltrated the drinking water. The water is so bad that it has eroded many residents’ teeth, making it that much harder for them to find jobs. Streets filled with trash, frequent road deaths and injuries from a lack of transportation options and safe places to walk, and dropping out before 10th grade were all the norm.

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In just a short time, a collection of partners and volunteers have begun to reverse some of the decades-old problems Bithlo has faced. And earlier this week, the town that had been forgotten for almost a century was the scene of a hubbub of activity as hundreds of volunteers descended on the town to continue work on “Transformation Village,” Bithlo’s future main street, which will sport a combination library/coffee shop, schools, shops and many other services, all long missing from Bithlo.

Over the last few months, NewPublicHealth has reported on initiatives of the participating members of Stakeholder Health, formerly known as the Health Systems Learning Group. Stakeholder Health is a learning collaborative made up of 43 organizations, including 36 nonprofit health systems, that share innovative practices aimed at improving health and economic viability of communities.

>>Read more on the Stakeholder Health effort to leverage health care systems to improve community health.

One of the Stakeholder Health members is the Adventist Health System, a not-for-profit health care system that has hospitals across the country. Recently, Adventist’s flagship health care provider, Florida Hospital in Orlando, began supporting United Global Outreach (UGO), a non-profit group aimed at building up communities in need, in their four-year-long effort to transform the town of Bithlo.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Tim McKinney, executive vice president of United Global Outreach, and Verbelee Neilsen-Swanson, vice president of community impact at Florida Hospital, about the partnerships and commitment that have gone into Bithlo’s transformation into a town that is looking forward to new housing stock, jobs, stores, better education and improved health outcomes for the its citizens.

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Oct 16 2013
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Place Matters: A Q&A With David J. Erickson, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

file David Erickson, Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco

At the recent Place Matters: Exploring the Intersections of Health and Economic Justice conference in Washington, D.C., David J. Erickson, PhD, was a key member of a panel called “What Works for America’s Communities?” Dr. Erickson, who is director of the Center for Community Development Investment at the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, has been a key leader in a Healthy Communities collaboration between the Federal Reserve and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The joint effort has convened more than ten conferences around the country and released numerous publications, including an article in Health Affairs about partnerships to improve the wellbeing of low-income people.

>>Read more reporting from the Place Matters conference, in a Q&A with David Williams of the Harvard School of Public Health and the RWJF Commission to Build a Healthier America.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Dr. Erickson at the Place Matters meeting.

NewPublicHealth: Are the Healthy Communities conferences continuing?

David Erickson: We still have what we call “consciousness raising” meetings planned in Ohio, Florida, Louisiana and other cities, and these are initial meetings that get together the health and community development world. But then there is another phase, we call it phase two—how do you operationalize this idea? What do we do tomorrow? Who do I call? How do I structure the transaction? Who’s my partner? And that’s harder to answer so we’re trying to figure that out. So we need phase two meetings to get hospitals together with banks to talk about how they might blend some of their community benefit dollars with community reinvestment dollars to help alleviate some of the upstream causes of bad health [like poverty and poor housing].

NPH: What would be examples of such a collaboration?

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Oct 2 2013
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Exploring the Intersection of Health, Place and Economic Justice

file Brian Smedley, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies

On Wednesday October 2nd, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies held its third annual National Health Equity Conference, PLACE MATTERS: Exploring the Intersections of Health and Economic Justice. The Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies was founded in 1970 and is the only research and public policy institute that focuses exclusively on social justice issues of particular concern to African Americans and other communities of color.

The conference focused on the relationship between community development and the creation of healthy spaces and places, and convened key stakeholders, including grassroots leaders, elected officials, researchers, public health practitioners, policymakers, community development practitioners, and community organizers. The conference had several goals, including to:  

  • Illuminate the mechanisms through which neighborhood conditions directly and indirectly shape the health of children, youth, and families, and document differences in neighborhood conditions resulting from residential segregation;
  • Identify common goals and strategies of individuals and organizations working in the community development sector and the health equity sector;
  • Elevate promising strategies to improve and sustain neighborhood conditions for health that draw upon effective approaches employed in the community development and health equity sectors; and
  • Explore means to better communicate these strategies to key audiences, such as community-based development and health equity organizations, public health practitioners, planners, and elected officials.

Leaders at the Joint Center say that by convening national and local leaders, including individuals at the forefront of community development and health equity movements, they hoped to raise awareness regarding community conditions that shape health and develop policy solutions at the intersection of place and health, particularly as it pertains to people of color and health equity.

NewPublicHealth spoke with Brian Smedley, PhD, Vice President and Director of the Joint Center’s Health Policy Institute about the critical issues of community health and its relationship to health equity.

NewPublicHealth: What do we know so far about the impact of place on health, and what do we still need to learn?

Brian Smedley: There’s a large and growing body of research that demonstrates the relationship between the places and spaces where people live, work, study, and play and their health status, and what we’ve been able to determine is that there are many characteristics of neighborhoods, schools and work places that powerfully shape health.  Just as an example, more and more people are paying attention to this concept of food deserts — many communities in the United States that don’t have geographic access to healthy foods.  And not only do people have to travel a long distance to access these foods, but they’re often financially out of reach as well.

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Aug 16 2013
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Faces of Public Health: Rick Bell

file Rick Bell, American Institute of Architects New York, at the Fit Nation exhibit

In the last decade or so, leaders in the field of architecture have begun to look at not just the aesthetics of building and community design, but also their own impact on the health of communities. In New York City, for example, the local chapter of the American Institute of Architecture’s New York chapter partnered with several agencies in New York City, including the departments of Health and Mental Hygiene, Design and Construction, Transportation, City Planning, and Office of Management and Budget, as well as research architects and city planners to create the city’s Active Design Guidelines. These provide architects and urban designers with a manual of strategies for creating healthier buildings, streets, and urban spaces, based on the latest academic research and best practices in the field. The Guidelines include:

  • Urban design strategies for creating neighborhoods, streets, and outdoor spaces that encourage walking, bicycling, and active transportation and recreation.
  • Building design strategies for promoting active living where we work and live and play, through the placement and design of stairs, elevators, and indoor and outdoor spaces.

NewPublicHealth recently spoke with Rick Bell, policy director of AIA New York, who was instrumental in the creation of the guidelines, about the burgeoning intersection between design and healthier communities.

>>Read more on architecture and design for a fit nation.

NewPublicHealth: How did AIA New York become involved in healthy design with the city of New York?

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Jul 25 2013
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Sonoma Aims for Healthiest County in Calif. By Addressing Education, Poverty: Q&A with Peter Rumble

Peter Rumble, Sonoma County Peter Rumble, Sonoma County

In 2011, Sonoma County in California established the division of Health Policy, Planning and Evaluation (HPPE) in an effort to move the county up in the County Health Rankings, toward a goal of becoming the healthiest in the state by 2020. As the director of the division, Peter Rumble, MPA, has played a critical role in the development of numerous programs and policy efforts to help create opportunities for everyone in Sonoma County to be healthy. Rumble has worked on programs and policies that go beyond traditional public health activities and aim to address the root causes of poor health, including the local food system, education and poverty.

Following his presentation at the International Making Cities Livable Conference, NewPublicHealth was able to speak with Rumble about the ways in which his work with HPPE is pushing to achieve health equity in Sonoma County. Rumble will soon move into a position as Deputy County Administrator of Community and Government Affairs for the County of Sonoma, where he plans to continue his commitment to a vision of health and quality of life for the county.

NewPublicHealth: Sonoma is making a concerted effort to help address the root causes of poor health, like poverty and lack of education. Tell us about some of those efforts.

Peter Rumble: Health Action is our real heartbeat of addressing social determinants of health, and it’s a roadmap for our vision of being the healthiest county in California by 2020. Health Action is a community council that advises the Board of Supervisors. There are 45 seats on the council, including elected officials, individual community leaders, nonprofit leaders, and representative from the business, financial, labor, media, transportation and environmental sectors. If you pick a name out of the hat for all of the sectors in the community, we’ve got somebody who either directly or tangentially represents that sector. That group began talking about needing to do something around health in 2007. 

If we’re going to be the healthiest county in California by 2020, what do we need to do to achieve our ten goals based on the best evidence available? We certainly have goals associated with the health system, but predominantly, we’re focused on influencing the determinants of health. Our first goal is related to education. We want all of our children to graduate from high school on time and ready to either enter a thriving workforce or go into college or a technical career academy.

file Community garden in Sonoma County (photo by Arlie Haig)

We started with some grassroots initiatives. Being a real strong agricultural community, iGROW was a good place to start. It was a movement to develop community gardens—for people to tear up their front lawns and plant a garden there, and increasing access to healthy food. That was a huge hit. We set a goal of a few hundred community gardens, and we’re up to a thousand now—it’s just caught fire.  

That was all great, but a community garden is not going to make us the healthiest county in California, right? You can see the beautiful posters out on shop windows, you can see your neighbor tore up their front lawn and is growing this beautiful zucchini and has an edible lawn now and all that’s wonderful, but we only have a graduation rate of 70 percent. We’ve got nearly one in four kids living in poverty by the federal poverty standards and if you look at what actually it takes to raise a family in Sonoma County, about half of all families can’t make ends meet. 

NPH: Does that surprise people to hear about Sonoma?

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