Now Viewing: Healthy communities

Healthy Communities: The Building Blocks of a Culture of Health

Aug 25, 2014, 9:15 AM, Posted by Jamie Bussel

Baldwin Park California

What do Corvallis, Ore.; Baldwin Park, Calif.; and Buffalo, N.Y. have in common? It certainly isn’t their weather.

Hint—the commonality is something much more relevant to RWJF’s newly refined mission. These three cities are building a Culture of Health for all their citizens. They are tapping into the skills and resources of a diverse group of partners to ensure everyone has access to healthy choices. It’s their collective efforts, along with dozens of other communities supported by the Foundation’s Healthy Kids, Healthy Communities (HKHC) program, that make me so optimistic about our organizational goal.

My strong belief that environments—physical, social and educational—play a prominent role in our individual health and well-being is what initially drew me to RWJF. So, in 2008, I excitedly embraced the opportunity to be the national program officer for HKHC, which addressed the root causes of childhood obesity by transforming the physical activity and food environments in which children and their families live, learn and play.

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GirlTrek: Black Women Walking for Body, Mind and Soul

Jul 3, 2014, 10:21 AM, Posted by Keecha Harris

Keecha Harris GirlTrek

I first met my friend Leah in September 2013, when she started walking with GirlTrek in Birmingham, Ala. GirlTrek is a movement of thousands of Black women across the country mobilized in response to the problem of staggering rates of obesity and its co-morbidities. Leah read a local NPR article about Black women walking for wellness under the banner of GirlTrek, and she decided to check it out.

As a GirlTrek volunteer, it is always a pleasure to connect with women new to our local organizing efforts. Leah joined us on a Full Moon Trek. Under celestial brilliance, Leah and I walked into the woods of the Hillsboro Trail as strangers. By the end of the trek, I had a new and humorous sister who fearlessly faced the possibility of running into snakes and other wildlife.

And when there is the promise of a storm, if you want change in your life, walk into it.
If you get on the other side, you will be different.
And if you want change in your life and you’re avoiding the trouble, you can forget it.
—Bernice Johnson Reagon

Friends were exactly what Leah needed. She and her husband had moved to Birmingham in 2007 to escape Michigan winters, and to establish a vibrant community of people with common interests. The winters are warmer here, true—but friends aren’t always easy to come by when you’re a stranger in a new city.

And that was the beginning of Leah’s relationship with a warm, welcoming organization of women passionate about improving their health—and fostering change. In short: she found the new friends she had been seeking. But these friendships gave her much more than she anticipated. Her doctor had delivered the grim news the month before that she was pre-diabetic. So walking with others was very timely.

Leah found herself in good company. GirlTrek has a goal of engaging 1 million Black women and girls in its walking-related programming by 2015. The program is sparking a health revolution, and it does so by building upon the rich cultural legacy and assets of the African American community.

Take, for example, Harriet Tubman. She’s a patron saint to GirlTrek supporters. Tubman was known to walk as many as 15 miles per day in uncut forests, through mossy swamps and across the Appalachian Ridge. Within the course of a decade, Tubman walked north toward freedom with hundreds escaping slavery. If Harriet Tubman could walk her way into new realities, the thinking goes, then so can we.

Leah was intrigued by the Full Moon Trek—and why would she not want to be part of a group of Black women who trekked to the light of the moon?  We connected through Facebook, excited to learn more about each other during a night walk in nature.

Walking to bring about change was a familiar theme for Leah. In fact, she was born to trek.

“Thinking back, walking has always held importance in my life—even before I took my first steps or took my first breath of air. My mother was weeks past her due date. Upon her third trip to the hospital, she was put in a hospital gown and instructed to walk up and down the halls.”

Thereafter, Leah and her mother racked up quite a few miles on foot. On weekends and evenings, her mom walked to relish joy or to ease pains, with little Leah in tow: “She’d walk, and walk, and walk, and walk. My little legs would go as fast as they could to keep up. When we returned home, I’d nearly collapse. But of course the next time she put on her shoes, I’d be ready to go again!“

That began to change in October. Leah has stepped up to lead other walkers to wellness. For the past eight months, she has led daily treks at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. These “smokeless breaks” are about 30 minutes each, with two to six women walking together.  Sometimes they walk to Railroad Park. During inclement weather, they trek inside along the long corridors connecting area hospitals.  

All of that walking has paid off for Leah—in a way that the everyone should applaud her for. In 2003, Leah did her first half-marathon. Over the last eight months, she has lost 30 pounds ... and shaved 17 minutes off her half-marathon time. She is no longer taking Metformin to treat her pre-diabetes. She feels more confident and peaceful. Moreover, Leah has found the warm, vibrant community of friends that she desired when she moved here.

For Leah, there is now no challenge too great. In May, Leah and other GirlTrekkers committed to walk at least 52.4 miles to honor their mothers. She walked at work and on weekends with her 5-year-old daughter, Neah Imani, in tow. Neah’s name means "moving faith."

Movement has been transformational for these three generations of trekkers. Leah’s mom continues to inspire her walking journey. In fact, Leah’s mom lost over 40 pounds in 2013, by walking the hallways at the University during her breaks.  

These days, though, mom can’t keep up with Leah any longer. She says Leah walks too fast. But even though they can’t walk together, they’re still walking in common cause: to heal their bodies, soothe their souls and form community with other black women.

About the Author
Keecha Harris, DrPH, RD is a walking enthusiast who has trekked every day since October 2012.  Her consulting company has provided support to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Childhood Obesity Team and the Research, Evaluation and Learning unit.   

Spotlight: Health Convenes in Aspen for the First Time

Jun 23, 2014, 6:00 AM, Posted by Robin Hogen

For the past year, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has been thinking and talking about how to build a Culture of Health in America—a culture where health becomes a part of everything we do, and the healthy choice becomes the easy choice. This week we are ratcheting the dialogue up a notch at the first ever Spotlight: Health meeting, a 2-1/2 day expansion of the famed Aspen Ideas Festival, convened annually by the Aspen Institute in Colorado. 

Spotlight: Health will bring together world leaders, corporate executives, innovators, entrepreneurs, policy experts, influential media, philanthropists and thought leaders from a broad range of sectors to discuss the key issues of our time as they relate to medicine, population health, and the relationship between health and other disciplines. In keeping with the 2014 theme of the Aspen Ideas Festival, Imagining 2024, the Spotlight: Health meeting will focus on what the state of health might look like a decade from now. It will explore new frontiers in health, such as new advances in biomedical and environmental science, and the influence of related disciplines including the arts, community development and technology. 

RWJF CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey will lay out the challenges to be discussed at the meeting in her Wednesday keynote address, “We Will Have A Powerful Story to Tell: Building a Culture of Health in America,” which will be live-streamed at 10 a.m. (EDT). Other speakers and panelists will focus on four main themes: “Living Longer, Living Better;” “Health by Design;” “The Business of Health;” and “Innovations in Health.” The closing session will feature an interview with former Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius by Aspen Institute President and CEO Walter Isaacson. 

Also on Wednesday, we will announce the six winners of the RWJF Culture of Health Prize, which honors communities working at the forefront of health improvement.  Members of the winning community organizations will be at the meeting as well, to share their strategies and learn new ones. 

We’re hoping all this talking, thinking, and sharing will lead to new ideas, new actions and new partnerships. For those that can’t attend, we hope you will follow the live stream and the Twitter hashtag #AspenIdeas. But most of all, I hope that Aspen will be just one piece of an ongoing dialogue that will spread across the U.S. over the next decade, as we all work to build a Culture of Health into the fabric of every community.

Robin Hogen is RWJF's vice president for Communications.

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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A Connections Checklist: Bringing Health Care and Communities Together

Dec 10, 2013, 1:34 PM, Posted by Hilary Heishman

Cure Violence Community meeting

The conversation is nearly everywhere I go for work lately. More than cost trends, or accountable care organizations, I hear people in both public health and health care circles talking about how we need to be better connected.

Across a variety of health roles, many people are embracing the belief that individuals and the communities we live in will be better off—regarding health outcomes, health care cost, health disparities, corporate productivity, individual quality of life, and so forth—if health care providers, the public health system, and social services are better connected to each other and to the communities in which patients live.

Fortunately, it’s not all talk. In communities across the nation people are trying their best to connect systems to improve the overall health of those who live there, driven by a combination of compassion, pragmatism, pressure, policies, and overall gestalt.

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Communities Need More Ladders, Fewer Chutes

Nov 8, 2013, 1:33 PM, Posted by Katie Loovis

Glaxo COH blog post_Loovis GlaxoSmithKline supports some urban redevelopment projects because they lead to healthier communities—this piece of artwork, for example, inspires community members to bike around town. (Photo: GSK)

Katie Loovis is director of U.S. community partnerships and stakeholder engagement for GlaxoSmithKline, the global health care company. In this role, Katie is responsible for providing leadership and shaping strategy for GSK’s U.S. community engagement and philanthropic activities at the national, state, and local levels, and building relationships.

Chutes and Ladders—one of the greatest board games in human history—is a game of rewards and consequences. You make a move and are met with a benefit (ladder to a higher level) or a detriment (chute to a lower level). All the while, you’re aiming for the top, journeying toward the blue ribbon finish.

Living a long and healthy life is kind of like a game of chutes and ladders. You might go along thinking that by visiting your doctor every year (ladder) and choosing to nosh on lots of veggies (ladder) that you are on-track, but ... sorry! Your neighborhood lacks a grocery store stocked with healthy foods (chute), it doesn’t have any safe parks or green spaces to exercise (chute), you live in a house full of smokers (chute); and to top it all off, you just lost your job in this tough economy (chute !).

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Knight Foundation News Challenge: Looking for a Few Great Data-Leveraging Ideas

Sep 9, 2013, 11:59 AM, Posted by Culture of Health Blog Team

11_06_30_HealthFair_RWJF_4_5093

On August 19, we announced a new $100,000 prize as part of the Knight Foundation’s latest News Challenge, which seeks innovative ideas to harness information and data for the health of communities. The RWJF award is for those entrants who combine public health data with other types of population data to improve the health of communities. The Knight Foundation has committed $2 million to the contest as well.

The entries phase opened this week, and, as of this writing, 34 entries have already been submitted! We asked Paul Tarini, senior program officer for the Pioneer Portfolio, and Anne Weiss, senior program officer and team director of the Quality/Equality team, to reflect on the 105 ideas shared during the initial inspiration phase:

Paul commented:

“I liked the idea about linking health and housing data to improve the provision of social services, health services and housing support to people who are homeless. I also liked the vision for CHEER from Miami-Dade County, which is trying to link kids’ education and health data to improve outcomes for children and inform policy. Similarly comes an idea from Virginia to link datasets from the Health Department on birth issues, early childhood health conditions, and maternal health conditions to social service data and educational outcomes.

My question to everyone who submitted ideas during the inspiration phase: Can you actually get the data you’re interested in using? And, how will you make the data actionable?”

Anne adds:

“I have to say that a lot of what I saw wasn’t exactly what I expected. I saw apps and technology that used ONE source of data. There were a number that did combine data, but I couldn’t get a very specific sense of what data they’d combined and how it would be used.

The ones that excited me, if I read them right, were the ones about combining data on grocery store purchasing with primary care data, as well as the idea related to Trenton public transit.These seemed to me to be fresh, to address social determinants of health, and to leverage the power of different types of data. What I especially liked about these is that they have some interested, committed partners at the table who want the project to succeed, and they’ve got at least an early notion of specifics—what they will do and how they’ll do it.”

Be sure to keep an eye on the Knight News Challenge page to see the ideas being submitted—and if YOU have a bright idea you’d like to submit, be sure to do it soon. The challenge closes on Sept. 17; that’s just 11 days away!

Scaling Equals Cultural Transformation

Aug 31, 2013, 9:51 PM, Posted by Jane Isaacs Lowe

Greenhouse_16

On RWJF’s Vulnerable Populations team, we look for ideas that we believe are going to transform a field; that will create the impetus for significant social change. When we find those ideas, our goal is to take them to scale.

Contrary to popular belief, scaling does not mean hiring more people or growing a bigger organization. When we talk about scaling, it’s about supporting an idea to allow for radical transformation. It is our contribution to creating a culture of health.

One of the ideas that we’re currently working to take to scale is the Green House Project, which aims to transform the culture of long-term care. We’ve tested the model repeatedly in a number of locations and now we’re trying to get it greater national visibility so that it can have the significant impact on the field of long-term care that we believe it can—and should.

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Move Over, Richard Kiley. Here’s Why We Want to Combine Public Health Data with Health Care Data

Aug 19, 2013, 9:00 AM, Posted by Paul Tarini

Visualizations of health data at Calit2

We’re announcing today a new $100,000 prize as part of the Knight Foundation’s latest News Challenge, which seeks innovative ideas to harness information and data for the health of communities. The RWJF award is for those entrants who combine public health data with data from health care to improve the health of communities. The Knight Foundation itself has committed $2 million to the contest, as well.

The reason we want to combine public health data with health care data is because of the potential the combined data has to drive real improvements and innovation. When we were discussing this, one of my colleagues broke out with “To dream the impossible dream.” While he couldn’t match Kiley’s sonorous baritone, he did capture the ambition in the song.

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Why Microbes and Albert Einstein are a Part of Our Culture of Health

Jul 19, 2013, 4:09 PM, Posted by Anna Heling

This is the second in a series. Read the first here.

Promoting a “culture of health” isn’t just a 9-to-5 job for RWJF employees; many of them also use their time out of the office to further their push toward health and well-being. As Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, president and CEO, describes it, creating a culture of health means having “the kind of values where we can say health, and the policies and practices that go into making sure we are a healthy community, are as much a part of us as are the values that say we pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Below, three more members of the RWJF crew talk about how they’re furthering this healthy mindset throughout the summer months.

 

BRINGING ROLLERBLADING BACK: Christine Nieves (Program Associate, Pioneer Team)

For Nieves, this summer is all about conquering fears. Although she spent her teenage years rollerblading in her native Puerto Rico, her hiatus from the wheels translated into being “terrified” of the activity. Even so, she’s spending her free time getting back into the groove of rollerblading while simultaneously exploring local parks. “It’s more than exercise,” she said. “It’s getting over things that make me nervous and that I’m afraid to do. It’s looking at the things that hold me back and building confidence.”

Nieves and her boyfriend/pseudo-rollerblading coach have already taken to the paved paths of Mercer County Park and Mountain Lakes Nature Preserve (with a goal of rolling around Princeton Stadium “when no one’s looking”).

Lazy patterns of physical activity can lead into lazy patterns of thought, Nieves said, and she reminds herself of this Albert Einstein quote when she’s feeling the urge to slouch on the couch: “Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.”

Added Nieves, “Maintaining a culture of health is something that helps me maintain my mind and set physical, professional, and personal goals for myself. I think of it as a holistic thing.”

 

OPENING THAT WINDOW: Lori Melichar (Director)

The New York City dweller was struck by a recent RWJF talk about microbes, the trillions of microorganisms invisible to the naked eye that surround us and interact with our bodies and the environment. Biologist, engineer, and ecologist Jessica Green visited the Foundation and said that our secure, built environment – the buildings where we live, work, and play – may not be the healthiest. By holding tight control over our environments and keeping the outdoors out and the indoors in, Green said the microbes around us are less diverse, which studies suggest increases our risk of interacting with potential pathogens.

With this in mind, Melichar is doing what she can to ramp up her microbial variety. “For one of my recent meetings I went on a walking meeting around the Foundation,” she said. “The way I used to think about that was walking for exercise, and now I think about it as getting a little bit of variation in my microbes. I’d never thought before about this, but it seems like there’s the potential for this variation to be health-increasing.”

She said even opening the window a crack can help: “If you have the window open a bit, microbes from the trees and from the birds and from everything else outside can mix with everything inside that hasn’t gotten out...because we have double-doors on everything.”

 

“GREEN-IFYING” THE HOME: Linda Manning (Program Team Coordinator, Program Service Center)

Along with a 60-year-old house come inevitable renovations, but Manning is choosing to make them green ones. After a faulty lawnmower spit out a rock, breaking a window in her Hamilton home, she and her husband decided to replace their basement windows with those that are more energy efficient.

They’re also re-landscaping to combat the hungry creatures chomping away at the yard. “Rather than spraying all the flowers and plants with a spray – which isn’t always friendly to the environment – we decided to change a lot of the plants to those that will discourage the animals from snacking on them,” Manning said.

Keeping her home tidy and up-to-date helps her stay healthy, too. “I’ve had a lot of health problems that are not controlled by the environment, but I find that, if I do these things, it makes me feel better,” she said. “It makes me feel good that I have a really clean home. I think it just makes everybody healthier.”