Now Viewing: Public and Community Health

Seizing Opportunities to Reinvent Public Health

Dec 2, 2014, 10:57 AM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

A doctor talks in a friendly manner to a disabled patient sitting in a wheelchair

“The only thing we know about the future is that it will be different,” wrote the late management guru Peter Drucker.  To the list of society’s sectors that are struggling with that conclusion, add government-funded public health.

State and local health departments face growing challenges, including infectious disease threats such as Ebola and chikungunya; a rising burden of chronic illness; an increasingly diverse population; even the health impact of global warming. At the same time, fiscal constraints accompanying the 2007–2008 recession and its aftermath hammered local, state, and territorial health agencies, which lost nearly 30,000 jobs—6 percent to 12 percent of their total workforces—from 2008 to 2013.

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Improving Health through Collaboration: The BUILD Health Challenge

Nov 26, 2014, 8:59 AM, Posted by Abbey Cofsky

Brownsville Farmers’ Market Enhancing community health: Customers buy produce at the Brownsville Farmers' Market in the Culture of Health Prize-winning city of Brownsville, Texas

Here at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the name of the game is collaboration. Our goal—to build a Culture of Health in which getting and staying healthy is a fundamental societal priority—is an ambitious one, requiring coordinated efforts among everyone in a community, from local businesses to schools to hospitals and government. It also calls for those of us at the Foundation to collaborate with other like-minded groups to address the complex challenges that stand in the way of better health.

That is why we are so pleased to be a partner in the BUILD Health Challenge, a $7.5 million program designed to increase the number and effectiveness of community collaborations to improve health.

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Putting the People in Data

Nov 18, 2014, 8:00 AM, Posted by Matthew Trujillo

Data for Health Phoenix Photo

I recently had the privilege of attending the Data for Health listening sessions in Phoenix and Des Moines, initiatives that explore how data and information can be used to improve people’s heath. The key lesson I took away: We cannot forget about the human element when we think about health data and technology.

I have to be honest and admit that I attended these sessions with some admittedly naïve expectations. I half expected that the Des Moines airport would be in the middle of a corn field and that the conversation in the two sessions would focus on the technical side of health data – with people using terms like interoperability and de-identification. But I quickly learned that Des Moines is a flourishing city full of great running paths and people who are passionate about health data. The conversations in both cities actually focused not on the technical side of health data but rather on the human side.

While health data and technology are complex, the complexity of the the individuals and communities who generate and use them are far greater. At first glance, this human complexity may seem like the source of many health data problems but, as pointed out by the session attendees, it is actually the source of many health data solutions:

 

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Healthy Community Planning Means Healthier Neighbors

Nov 17, 2014, 3:44 PM, Posted by Helene Combs Dreiling

5716 Wellness is housed in a historic Albert Kahn-designed cigar factory. 5716 Wellness is housed in a historic Albert Kahn-designed cigar factory.

Too often, U.S. public health policy focuses on treating illnesses after they are diagnosed, instead of encouraging healthy lifestyles to prevent illness in the first place. But architects—my profession—are engaged in a wholesale effort to reverse this focus. Throughout the U.S., right in the buildings where we live and work, architects are incorporating design techniques that can help prevent illness and benefit the local communities that live with their designs.

One of the best examples of this effort—even amidst bankruptcy and a historic unraveling of a once-dominant American city—is the Detroit Collaborative Design Center (DCDC), a nonprofit architecture and urban design firm that offers proof that neighborhoods that facilitate holistic wellness and preventative care are as valuable as doctors who make house calls.

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American Public Health Association Meeting: All About Where You Live

Nov 14, 2014, 9:55 AM, Posted by Linda Wright Moore

Commission NOLA built environement 4

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has long embraced the idea that advancing America’s health is a community affair. Much of our work—and our current vision for building a Culture of Health—is grounded on the basic premise that where we live, work, learn, and play is inextricably connected to our health and well-being.

Consider that life expectancy can differ by 25 years in neighborhoods just a few miles apart; that a ZIP code can determine rates of preventable disease, violence, and access to healthy food. With this in mind, RWJF supports a wide range of programs designed to foster healthy communities—including efforts to prevent obesity and chronic disease, reduce disparities in health and access to care, and improve early childhood development.

We recognize that the best strategies are driven by local data and address the unique challenges and characteristics of individual communities. We know that what works for Camden, N.J., might not fly in Minneapolis or Baltimore.

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Five Takeaways from National Forum on Hospitals, Health Systems and Population Health

Nov 5, 2014, 2:08 PM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center photo

The new faces of population health may be those of Annika Archie, Vernita Frasier, Pecola Blackburn, and Mary Dendy (shown in the photo on the right). They were once part of the cleaning crew at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in North Carolina, but their jobs were cut when the hospital outsourced those services to save money. But thanks to a creative initiative on the part of the hospital, they now they have new roles as “Supporters of Health,” serving the hospital’s uninsured, chronically ill patients in proactive ways.

Having come from similar circumstances as their patients, the four women help them cope with a range of needs–from understanding how to take their medications to getting assistance to pay their rent. In just a few months, the supporters helped cut hospital readmission rates for these patients to 2.5 percent, says Gary Gunderson, vice president of faith and health ministries at Wake Forest Baptist. “We gave them training as community health workers,” says Gunderson, “but it was sort of like just giving them a baseball hat”–a formality to acknowledge new roles that they had long played informally.

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Data for Health: Learning What Works for Philadelphia

Nov 5, 2014, 12:37 PM, Posted by Susannah Fox

Philadelphia City Hall

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Global Health in a Time of Ebola

Oct 21, 2014, 2:44 PM, Posted by Paul Kuehnert

Nelson Mandela's cell on Robbens Island Nelson Mandela's cell on Robbens Island (photo by Paul Kuehnert)

I returned from Cape Town, South Africa a week ago and want to share some reflections on my trip and my participation in the Third Global Symposium on Health Systems Research, in Cape Town September 30-October 3, with the theme “Science & Practice of People-Centred Health Systems.”

In the opening session, Professor Thandika Mkandawire from the London School of Economics made two remarks that resonated with me, and that were referred to by other speakers throughout the conference. First, referencing Napoleon’s quote that “War is too important to leave to the generals,” Mkandawire said that “health is too important to leave to health specialists.”  Instead, there is a need for multiple disciplines and sectors to create health and devise health policy. He went on to address the policy issues related to the most vulnerable populations, saying that “policies targeting the poor are poor policies”, arguing for the importance of social solidarity, not charity.

The current Ebola epidemic highlights the gaps in public health in many nations, as well as the erosion of public health emergency preparedness and response at WHO and many other nations, including the US.. This is putting our health at risk from all kinds of infectious and emerging diseases (e.g., MERS, polio) and threatens progress in health in other areas.

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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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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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