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This Is Your Brain

Jun 20, 2014, 12:30 AM, Posted by Andrew Harrison

In 1990, RWJF refined its grantmaking goals to three strategies:

  • Assure that Americans of all ages have access to basic health care
  • Improve the way services are organized and provided to people with chronic health conditions, and
  • Promote health and prevent disease by reducing harm caused by substance abuse.

The Foundation had studied the issue of substance abuse for several years. In fact, RWJF’s first venture into this field was Fighting Back, a national program aimed at creating community-based solutions to reducing the use of illegal drugs.

RWJF Trustee James E. Burke played a vital role in helping to craft the Foundation’s grantmaking strategies to reduce substance abuse. In 1989, Burke became chairman of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America (PDFA). That same year, the Foundation issued its first grant to the PDFA, and this support continued through 2009. Today, PDFA operates as the Partnership at Drugfree.org.

During the two decades of RWJF funding, PDFA conducted national media campaigns to educate the public about the dangers of substance abuse. Public Service Announcements (PSA) served as one of its primary methods to curb drug use.

Arguably, PDFA’s most effective and memorable PSA was its 1987 ad called “Frying Pan.” The PSA shows an actor named John Roselius holding an egg in his sparsely furnished apartment. He announces that the egg represents a persons’ brain. He picks up a frying pan, and adds: “This is drugs.” He cracks the egg into the pan. Its contents quickly fry. He then delivers the powerful punch line: “This is your brain on drugs.” The ad concludes with the famous tagline: “Any questions?”

This Is Your Brain on Heroin

RWJF did not provide funding for the “Frying Pan” PSA, but Foundation funds did help produce its memorable 1997 sequel. In this version, actress Rachael Leigh Cook also holds an egg in her hand, once again symbolizing a human brain. The frying pan represents heroin. Cook places the egg on a kitchen counter. And then she declares: “This is what happens to your brain after snorting heroin.” The actress violently smashes the egg, wielding the pan like a cast iron cudgel. As she lifts the pan, the egg drips down over her hand and the pan.

It’s not over yet, as Cook makes all too clear. What follows is harrowing, a long string of violent declarations as she smashes everything in the kitchen—wine glasses, the ceiling lamp, the wall clock ... everything.

“This is what your body goes through! And this is what your family goes through! And your friends! And your money! And your job! And your self-respect! And your future!”

“And,” she adds, “your life.”

And once again, at the end, the chilling and memorable catchphrase: “Any questions?”

To this day, we possess an unusual but much appreciated token of appreciation for our two decades of funding for the PDFA. It’s a replica of the frying pan used in the Partnership’s ads. It’s even framed.

It’s hard to imagine a national Culture of Health that does not take into account the toll that drugs take on Americans every day. And not just the lives of vulnerable people dragged down by drug abuse, but the culture of crime and violence that can also short-circuit the lives and futures of so many young people involved in the sale of drugs. And that’s not to mention the deleterious impact on the health of the surrounding community.

And so that frying pan serves as a constant reminder that the work to improve the lives of so many vulnerable people and to improve and enhance the health of whole neighborhoods is still far from over.

Any questions?

Andrew R. Harrison is the Foundation's historian.

A Community Fights for Light Rail, and its Health

Jun 16, 2014, 8:43 PM, Posted by Doran Schrantz

After 15 years of hard work and tireless commitment on the part of so many people—elected officials, engineers, urban planners, community leaders―the Green Line light rail line connecting downtown Minneapolis to downtown St. Paul is open for riders. The light rail runs through the very heart of the Twin Cities region and touches people in every walk of life—with the potential to transform economic opportunity, equity, and health.

It is our hope that once residents begin to use the line, they will find it easier to get to places where they can buy affordable healthy foods. Air quality will improve because there are fewer cars on the road. People may even lose some weight―a study in Charlotte showed that a year after that city opened a rail line, residents who used it regularly shed a few pounds.

But even as we celebrate the Green Line, we also want to solidify the lessons we have learned over the past decade and a half spent designing and building the project. Because a critical part of the Green Line’s story is how its planning and construction created the opportunity for communities to organize themselves, to ensure that this historic opportunity did not pass them by.

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Filling in the Cracks: The Fight for Mental Health

Jun 11, 2014, 3:11 PM, Posted by Beth Toner

In December 2009, I found myself in a narrow, cramped waiting room that looked, via one small window, into the locked psychiatric unit of a suburban Pennsylvania community hospital. On the other side was my oldest son, just a week shy of his 17th birthday. He was clad only in a thin hospital gown, perched in a wheelchair that was outfitted for restraints—although he wasn’t restrained. He looked tired, frightened, and overwhelmed. My husband, his stepfather, sat next to me as we waited for answers. Tears sprang to my eyes. Could my son—and our family—find our way back?

That moment was the culmination of six months of escalating anxiety and mood swings in my son’s life. He had always been, from a very young age, an intense child: bright, intensely focused, and articulate—which occasionally manifested itself in stubbornness and a reluctance to back down from an argument. But the fall of his junior year of high school had proved to be something very different. Suddenly, his occasional anxiety multiplied exponentially, completely out of proportion to the stressors in his life. Ten-point assignments in an advanced placement bio class turned into all-night crying and screaming sessions that ended with him sitting in a corner sobbing—and us all exhausted and at wit’s end. We tried therapy, with minimal effect. His school guidance counselor, not really understanding the depth of Wesley’s despair, encouraged him to “tough it out.”

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When Springtime Turns Ugly: Public Health and Disaster Preparedness

Jun 6, 2014, 11:24 AM, Posted by Beth Toner

MOYER_110506_13128 EMOTIONAL AFTERMATH: A resident of Alabama, overwhelmed by the sight of her ruined home after tornadoes struck at the end of April, 2011.

Ah, springtime: especially welcome for those of us who experienced a particularly harsh winter. Spring often conjures up images of blossoming trees and blue skies, freshly cut grass and picnics.

Yet in May, several anniversaries of devastating natural disasters reminded us that springtime can also bring with it some of nature’s most violent weather phenomena:

  • On May 20, Moore, Okla., marked the first anniversary of the devastating tornado that killed 24, including seven children at an elementary school. It was the second EF-5 tornado to strike the city in 15 years; the May 3, 1999, tornado left 46 dead.
  • In Joplin, Mo., residents remembered the May 22, 2011, EF-5 tornado that killed 161 people.
  • On May 31, Johnstown, Pa,., observed the 125th anniversary of the devastating flood that leveled the entire city and killed 2,209.

While improved warning systems and 21st century technology have certainly played a role in reducing the number of lives Mother Nature’s temper tantrums claim, the fact remains that these events have a substantial impact on our health as a nation.

We recently talked to Paul Kuehnert, director, Bridging Health and Health Care portfolio—as well as a pediatric nurse practitioner and longtime state and local health official—to get his thoughts about the role public health plays in helping us prepare for, cope with, and learn from natural disasters.

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A Stronger Future for Young Men of Color

Jun 4, 2014, 11:12 AM, Posted by Maisha Simmons

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 “All hands on deck” is the best way to describe the last three months. Over the last 90 days, many of my colleagues and I have had endless conversations with the 11 foundations working in parallel to the White House’s launch of My Brother’s Keeper. These conversations have enabled us to develop a comprehensive strategy to catalyze broader investments to improve opportunities and outcomes for boys and young men of color. Now, RWJF and our partners are excited to release the executive summary of our new report, A Time for Action: Mobilizing Philanthropic Support for Boys and Young Men of Color.

Read the news release

Together we’ve looked at some of the most promising models for unlocking opportunity for young men despite the multitude of challenges they face. We’ve asked ourselves, “What strategies will move the needle farthest? How can we move beyond adopting programs to fundamentally changing those systems that help shape the experiences and trajectory of our young men?” We’ve shared our foundations’ unique approaches to the work and long-term goals. I’ve been most struck by the underlying passion that each of our foundations has for this work. While we each take a different approach in the grants we make and priorities we’re advancing, at root there is a true and touching shared commitment to improving the lives of our country’s young men of color.

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Two New Mexico Counties: One’s Healthy, One’s Not. Why?

Jun 4, 2014, 10:48 AM, Posted by Barbara Basler

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The healthiest county in New Mexico—indeed one of the healthiest  counties anywhere in the country—is Los Alamos, ironically the birthplace of the world’s first atomic bomb.

According to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s 2014 County Health Rankings and Roadmaps, Los Alamos, with one of the highest concentrations of PhDs and one of the highest median incomes in the nation, is not only wealthy and wise, but very healthy. In fact, it is a shining example of how education, income, and community—or the lack of—can shape our health, says Julie Willems Van Dijk, deputy director of the Rankings project.

New Mexico is a poor, rural state with a few small pockets of wealth. A 2012 analysis of state income disparities by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington found that the gap between New Mexico’s rich and poor is, proportionately the widest in the nation. The County Health Rankings reflect the health consequences of that gap.

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Building a Culture of Health in Every Community

May 28, 2014, 10:19 AM, Posted by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey

DC metro map

Where you live can make a big difference in how long you live.

With an introduction by American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown, RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, lends strength to that argument in a new entry in The Huffington Post.

Brown notes that people near the Friendship Heights station of Washington, D.C.'s Metro system live seven years longer than residents of the area surrounding the Tenleytown-AU station—just two stops away. Friendship Heights is in Maryland; Tenleytown-AU is in the District of Columbia. (View maps for Washington, D.C., and several other major cities and areas of the country.)

Lavizzo-Mourey picks up on that theme, elaborating on the findings and recommendations of the Foundation's recently issued County Health Rankings.

"Such socio-economic factors may seem like insurmountable obstacles to good health, but I believe we can use the County Health Rankings to help build a Culture of Health in every community," Lavizzo-Mourey writes. A report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Commission to Build a Healthier America, she adds, also offers practical solutions to the problem, with 10 recommendations "for improving factors that lie far outside the clinic's door, such as early childhood education, adequate shelter, access to fresh produce, and the high levels of stress produced by living in poverty."

Read Lavizzo-Mourey's views in the Huffington Post

We’re All in This Together: Let’s Bridge the Gap, Not Widen It

May 12, 2014, 4:14 PM, Posted by Beth Toner

Kathleen Hickey

At the end of April, the New York Times published an op-ed by Sandeep Jauhar, a cardiologist who—reacting to a New York bill granting nurse practitioners the right to provide primary care without physician oversight—argued that in primary care, “there will always be subtleties and complexities that demand a doctor’s judgment.”

His conclusion? “If we want more primary care providers, let’s have them be doctors”—and, he added, “let’s find a way to increase their pay.”

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Here's to the Nurses

May 8, 2014, 10:55 AM, Posted by Brent Thompson

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One evening several years ago, as my grandmother suffered through a painful end to her long life, our family gathered around her bedside at a hospital in South Jersey. She had been unconscious most of the day, but various family members, including my grandfather—her husband of six decades—had kept vigil at her bedside because they wanted to be with her in her last moments.

I was the last to arrive.

Shortly after I joined my family in the room, her physician showed up, checked her charts, and pronounced her “pretty much fine under the circumstances.” Then the doctor hurried off to complete his rounds.

My weary family, girding for the possibility of another long night at the hospital, decided to go downstairs for a bite to eat and some coffee. Because I had just arrived, I wanted some time alone with my grandmother, so I stayed behind in the room.

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To Address Childhood Obesity, Companies Must Join the Fight

May 7, 2014, 4:38 PM, Posted by Risa Lavizzo-Mourey

Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MPH Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MPH

We’re seeing signs of promise in the effort to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic in the United States. Overall childhood obesity rates have leveled off—and they’ve even declined in some regions and among some age groups.

But it’s far too early to declare victory, writes RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, in a new post on the professional social networking site LinkedIn. The rate of obesity among U.S. teens, she notes, stands at a “shocking 21 percent, and Hispanic and African-American youth still have higher obesity rates than their white and Asian peers.”

To make more progress, Lavizzo-Mourey says, we need more people and organizations in the fight—particularly the business community.

So what more can be done? On Thursday, May 8, Lavizzo-Mourey and influential leaders from throughout the nation—including many from the business community—met to consider innovative approaches in a forum, “Closing the Gap in Childhood Obesity,” sponsored by RWJF and the Clinton Health Matters Initiative, in collaboration with Grantmakers in Health. The forum focused on developing solutions to the inequities that exist in childhood health and childhood obesity.