Category Archives: Black (incl. African American)

Dec 15 2014
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African-American Men’s Health: A State of Emergency

Roland J. Thorpe, Jr., PhD, MS, is an assistant professor in the Department of Health, Behavior and Society at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and director of the Program for Research on Men’s Health at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions. The first RWJF Scholars Forum: Disparities, Resilience, and Building a Culture of Health was held December 5th. The conversation continues here on the RWJF Human Capital Blog.

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Nearly half a century ago, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. famously said, “Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.” Yet decades later, only modest progress has been made to reduce the pervasive race- and sex-based disparities that exist in this country. African-American men who are at the intersection of race and sex have a worse health profile than other race/sex groups.  This is dramatically evidenced by the trend in life expectancy.

Roland Thorpe

For example, African-American life expectancy has been the lowest compared to other groups ever since these data have been collected. Today the lifespan of African-American men is about six years shorter than that of white men.  Furthermore, a study from the Program for Research on Men’s Health at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions provides a financial perspective around this issue.

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Dec 5 2014
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Naming Racism

Thomas LaVeist, PhD, is founding director of the Hopkins Center for Health Disparities Solutions, and the William C. and Nancy F. Richardson Professor in Health Policy at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. He is the chair of the National Advisory Committee for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Center for Health Policy at Meharry Medical College. LaVeist will moderate the first RWJF Scholars Forum: Disparities, Resilience, and Building a Culture of Health today, beginning at 10 a.m. Eastern Time. Follow the hashtag,  #RWJFScholarsForum, on Twitter for more.

Thomas LaVeist

Yesterday I had Camara Phyllis Jones, PhD, MD, MPH, as guest lecturer for my seminar on health disparities. It was a homecoming of sorts for her. She and I first met in the early 1990s when I was a newly minted assistant professor and she was a PhD student at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Jones’ work should be well known to readers of this blog. She has published and lectured on the effects of racism on health and health disparities for many years. She played a leading role in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s work on race, racism, and health in the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System.  And she was just elected president-elect of the American Public Health Association. She is a fantastic lecturer and often uses allegory to illustrate how racism affects health. 

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About midway through her lecture, a student raised his hand and got her attention to ask a question about the utility of “naming racism.” My interpretation and rephrasing of his question—is it helpful to use the word racism or is the word so politically charged and divisive that it causes people to “tune you out?”

The student’s question raises a major challenge for those of us who seek to address health disparities. On one hand racism is fundamental to understanding why disparities exist and persist. I would go as far as to state that in most race disparities research, race is actually a proxy measure for exposure to racism. But, on the other hand, the word racism makes some people uncomfortable, causing them to become defensive or sometimes simply block out your message.  

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Nov 28 2014
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Lessons from the Arabbers of Baltimore

Maya M. Rockeymoore, PhD, is president of the Center for Global Policy Solutions, a nonprofit dedicated to making policy work for people and their environments, and director of Leadership for Healthy Communities, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). On December 5, RWJF will hold its first Scholars Forum: Disparities, Resilience, and Building a Culture of Health. Learn more.

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When I think of the resilience of disadvantaged communities disproportionately affected by health disparities, I think of the Arabbers of Baltimore, Md. They are not Arabic speaking people from the Middle East or North Africa, but scrappy African American entrepreneurs who started selling fresh foods in Baltimore’s underserved communities in the aftermath of the Civil War.

Maya Rockeymoore

Their relevance continued into the modern era as supermarkets divested from low-income neighborhoods, leaving struggling residents with few options aside from unhealthy fast food and carry-out restaurants. Driving horses with carts laden with colorful fresh fruits and vegetables, Arabbers sold their produce to residents literally starving for nutritious food.

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Nov 26 2014
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What’s Your “Street Race-Gender”? Why We Need Separate Questions on Hispanic Origin and Race for the 2020 Census

Nancy López, PhD, is an associate professor of sociology at the University of New Mexico (UNM). She co-founded and directs the Institute for the Study of “Race” and Social Justice at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Center for Health Policy at the UNM. On December 5, RWJF will hold its first Scholars Forum: Disparities, Resilience, and Building a Culture of Health. Learn more.

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How should we measure race and ethnicity for the 2020 Census? How can health disparities researchers engage in productive dialogues with federal, state and local agencies regarding the importance of multiple measures of race and ethnicity for advancing health equity for all?  

Nancy Lopez

If we depart from the premise that the purpose of race, ethnicity, gender and other policy-relevant data collection is not simply about complying with bureaucratic mandates, but rather it is about establishing communities of practice that work in concert toward the creation of pathways (from harmonized and contextualized data collection, analysis and reporting) to effective policy solutions and interventions that address the pressing needs of diverse communities across the country, then we have planted the seeds of a culture of health equity and social justice.

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Nov 24 2014
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Reigniting the Push for Health Equity!

Daniel E. Dawes, JD, is a health care attorney and executive director of government relations, health policy and external affairs at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia; a lecturer of health law and policy at the Satcher Health Leadership Institute; and senior advisor for the Transdisciplinary Collaborative Center for Health Disparities Research. On December 5, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) will explore this topic further at its first Scholars Forum: Disparities, Resilience, and Building a Culture of Health. Learn more about it.

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With growing diversity relative to ethnicity and culture in our country, and with the failure to reduce or eliminate risk factors that can influence health and health outcomes, it is imperative that we identify, develop, promulgate, and implement health laws, policies, and programs that will advance health equity among vulnerable populations, including racial and ethnic minorities.

Daniel Dawes

Every year, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality publishes its National Healthcare Quality and Disparities Report, which tracks inequities in health services in the United States. Since the report was first published in 2003, the findings have consistently shown that while we have made improvements in quality, we have not been as successful in reducing disparities in health care. This dichotomy has persisted, despite the fact that health care spending continues to rise. In fact, health care costs have been escalating at an unsustainable rate, reaching an estimated 17.3 percent of our gross domestic product in 2009, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Despite these high costs, the delivery system remains fragmented and inequities in the quality of health care persist. The impact of disparities in health status and access for racial and ethnic minorities is quite alarming.

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Nov 14 2014
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Misfortune at Birth

Eileen Lake, PhD, RN, FAAN, and Jeannette Rogowski, PhD, are co-principal investigators of a study, supported by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative, that generated evidence linking nurse staffing and work environments to infant outcomes in a national sample of neonatal intensive care units.* A new documentary, “Surviving Year One,” examines infant mortality in Rochester, N.Y. and nationwide. It is being shown on PBS and World Channel stations (check local listings). Read more about it on the RWJF Culture of Health Blog here and here.

Eileen Lake (Smaller photo) Eileen Lake

Are some premature babies simply born in the wrong place? Premature babies are fragile at birth and most infant deaths in this country are due to prematurity.  It is well established that blacks have poorer health than whites in our country, but the origin of these disparities is still a mystery.  It’s possible that the hospital in which a child is born may tell us why certain population groups have poorer health.

A new study by University of Pennsylvania and Rutgers investigators that I led shows that seven out of ten black infants with very low birth weights (less than 3.2 lbs.) in the United States have the simple misfortune of being born in inferior hospitals. What makes these hospitals inferior?  A big component is lower nurse staffing ratios and work environments that are less supportive of excellent nursing practice than other hospitals.  Our study, which was funded by the RWJF Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative, indicates that the hospitals in which infants are born can affect their health all their lives. 

Jeannette Rogowski Jeannette Rogowski

A Brighter Future

What can be done to make these hospitals better?  A first step would be to include nurses in decisions at all levels of the hospital, as recommended by the Institute of Medicine to position nursing to lead change and advance health. Laws in seven states require hospitals to have staff nurses participate in developing plans for safe staffing levels on all units.

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Oct 2 2014
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RWJF Scholars in the News: Autism and birth order, nurse staffing and underweight infants, long-term care insurance, and more.

Around the country, print, broadcast and online media outlets are covering the groundbreaking work of Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) leaders, scholars, fellows, alumni and grantees. Some recent examples:

There is an increased risk of Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) among children born less than one year or more than five years after the birth of their next oldest sibling, Forbes reports. The study, led by RWJF Health & Society Scholars program alumna Keely Cheslack-Postava, PhD, MSPH, analyzed the records of 7,371 children born between 1987 and 2005, using data from the Finnish Prenatal Study of Autism. About a third of the children had been diagnosed with ASD by 2007. Researchers found that the risk of ASD for children born less than 12 months after their prior sibling was 50 percent higher than it was for children born two to five years after their prior sibling. “The theory is that the timing between pregnancies changes the prenatal environment for the developing fetus,” Cheslack-Postava said. 

The health outcomes and quality of care for underweight black infants could greatly improve with more nurses on staff at hospitals with higher concentrations of black patients, according to a study funded by RWJF’s Interdisciplinary Nursing Quality Research Initiative (INQRI). The study, led by Eileen Lake, PhD, RN, FAAN, found that nurse understaffing and practice environments were worse at hospitals with higher concentrations of black patients, contributing to adverse outcomes for very low birthweight babies born in those facilities, reports Health Canal. More information is available on the INQRI Blog. The study was covered by Advance Healthcare Network for Nurses, among other outlets.

Because of a “medical-industrial complex” that provides financial incentives to overuse and fragment health care, patients nearing the end of their lives need an advocate to fight for their interests, Joan Teno, MD, MS, writes in an opinion piece for the New York Times. Teno encourages readers to “find a family member or friend who can advocate for the health care that you want and need. Find someone to ask the hard questions: What is your prognosis? What are the benefits and risks of treatments? Find someone not afraid of white coats.” Teno is an RWJF Investigator Award in Health Policy Research recipient. 

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Sep 19 2014
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An American in Africa

For the 25th anniversary of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Summer Medical and Dental Education Program (SMDEP), the Human Capital Blog is publishing scholar profiles, some reprinted from the program’s website. SMDEP is a six-week academic enrichment program that has created a pathway for more than 22,000 participants, opening the doors to life-changing opportunities. Following is a profile of Sam Willis, MD, a member of the 1995 class.

Sam Willis

After completing medical school, Sam Willis decided his residency could wait. He wanted to see the world.

So he joined the Peace Corps and spent two years working as a health volunteer in Burkina Faso, one of Africa’s poorest countries. Living among the Burkinabé, in a mud-and-brick house with no running water, Willis learned the native language along with French. Every day, he hauled water back from a well so he could take a bath outdoors.

He talked to the villagers about sanitation, HIV/AIDS prevention, and ways to fight malnutrition. He helped set up a food bank to tide residents over during the summer dry seasons, when the rains stopped and they couldn’t plant crops.

When he came back to the United States, it was with a different worldview.

“Learning to speak another language opened up my mind to understanding how the world works,” says Willis, who today is an assistant professor at Baylor College of Medicine and practices family medicine in Houston, Texas, treating patients from disadvantaged communities.

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Sep 2 2014
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Engaging a New Generation of Health Disparities Researchers

Theresa Simpson, BS, is a 2003 alumna and acting assistant director of Project L/EARN, and a doctoral student at the Rutgers Department of Sociology. Dawne Mouzon, PhD, MPH, MA, is a 1998 alumna and former course instructor for Project L/EARN, and an assistant professor at Rutgers Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy. Project L/EARN is a project of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the Institute for Health, Health Care Policy and Aging Research, and Rutgers University.

Theresa Simpson Theresa Simpson

When we began co-teaching Project L/EARN in the summer of 2006, health disparities was gaining momentum as a field.

At the time, we were both Project L/EARN alumni who shared a background in public health. We were becoming increasingly immersed in disparities through our graduate studies in the health, population and life course concentration of the sociology doctoral program at Rutgers University. 

Dawne Mouzon Dawne Mouzon

Directly as a result of that coursework, we began significantly expanding the Project L/EARN curriculum in the area of health disparities. Now, every summer, we hit the ground running the opening week of the program.

In the first lecture, an overview of the field of health disparities, Dawne introduces various theoretical frameworks for studying health disparities, followed by data on the social demography on various race/ethnic groups. She concludes with a series of charts and graphs showing race/ethnic, gender and socioeconomic status (SES) inequities in the epidemiology of health and illness. 

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Aug 22 2014
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We See the Dead and Don’t See the Living: The Realities of Black Men

Keon L. Gilbert, DrPH, MA, MPA, is an assistant professor in the Department of Behavioral Science & Health Education at St. Louis University's College for Public Health and Social Justice and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Connections grantee.

Keon Gilbert

Involuntary martyrs.

In 1999, 28-year-old Demetrius DuBose, a linebacker for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, was shot 12 times by two officers in his San Diego neighborhood. DuBose was a former co-captain of Notre Dame’s famed football team. His death came after he was questioned and harassed regarding a burglary in his neighborhood. Officers reported they had no choice but to shoot DuBose while he was handcuffed because they feared for their lives.

Many of these details sound similar to those surrounding the death of Michael (Mike) Brown Jr., who was shot at least six times in Ferguson, Missouri, this month. Brown was unarmed. He was reportedly fleeing from a police officer who also felt his life was in danger. 

What is missing from this picture is that black males also feel threatened and distrustful of authority figures and are routinely disengaged from contexts such as schools, medical facilities and neighborhoods. The narrative remains the same: Black males who die from excessive force become involuntary martyrs for the sustained legacy of institutional and interpersonal racism that is associated with the health disparities plaguing black communities. 

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