Identifying the Causes of a Persistent Health Disparity: High Blood Pressure Among African-Americans
Jacquelyn Taylor, PhD, PNP-BC, RN, FAAN, is an associate professor of nursing at Yale University and an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholars program (2008-2012). She recently received a $3.4 million grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research, a department of the National Institutes of Health, to conduct a large-scale study on the influence of genetic and psychological factors on high blood pressure in African-American women and children.
Human Capital Blog: Congratulations on your new grant from the National Institutes of Health to study blood pressure in African-Americans. What will be your focus?
Jacquelyn Taylor: African-Americans have the highest incidence of hypertension of any racial or ethnic group in our country. Studies show that some medications don’t work very well in reducing blood pressure in this population, and we are convinced that some other underlying mechanisms are at play. My co-principal investigator, Cindy Crusto, PhD, an associate professor in the department of psychology at Yale School of Medicine, and our research team and I will be studying two of those—genetic markers and psychological factors, such as perceived feelings of racism, mental health, and parenting behaviors—in our study. We want to know what effects these variables have on increases in blood pressure among African-American women and children over time.
HCB: Does this study build on your earlier work?
Taylor: In a previous study in Detroit, I looked at gene-environment interactions for high blood pressure in three generations of African-American women and identified hypertension risk alleles in grandmothers and in their daughters and granddaughters. Then I replicated the study in West Africa, where people live the same way as they did in the 1400s—in clay huts, with no running water, no sanitation, and no fast food as in the developed areas such as Detroit. The West African Dogon sample were mostly underweight, participated in large amount of physical activity, and had a limited but healthy diet. But they still had the same genetic markers for hypertension that I had identified in the sample in Detroit.
By Sheree Crute
Every few weeks, Dana Todd, MD, does something rare for an American physician: She makes a house call. The visits are her way of making life easier for a bedridden stroke survivor and her caregiver daughter.
“One afternoon, I looked out into the clinic waiting room and there they were,” Todd recalls. “My patient was laying on a stretcher. Her daughter was by her side. Her family was adamantly against putting her in a nursing home because she is only in her 50s, so coming in was the only way she could get care. I just hated seeing her that way so I said, ‘Next time, I’ll come to you.’”
Todd is one of four primary care physicians who, along with a small group of nurse practitioners, provide care for residents of Greensboro, Ala., population 2,440, in rural Hale County. The little town, though, is a lot more to Todd than a place to work.
Aara Amidi-Nouri, PhD, RN, is associate professor of nursing and director of diversity at Samuel Merritt University in Oakland, Calif. She is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Executive Nurse Fellow (2014-2017) and has served as a project director for the RWJF New Careers in Nursing scholarship program at Samuel Merritt University since 2009.
Trust. Our health depends on it, and so do our lives.
Our very first stage of personality development as infants starts with trust, according to renowned developmental psychologist Erik Erikson. A newborn’s basic needs—food, shelter, and clothing—are entirely entrusted to a caregiver, one who hopefully recognizes that he or she does not yet have an ability to shiver, sweat, or shed tears.
When caregivers are attuned to babies’ environments and hunger cues, they are able to meet their needs and build their trust in other human beings. When caregivers hold newborns close, they meet their need for love and affection, building trust with every heartbeat and with every breath. We are social beings, dependent on one another. We must trust one another in order to survive. It’s no coincidence that our pennies—our most basic form of currency—are engraved with that very word.
What happens when, instead of building trust, we createmistrust? What happens when we can’t trust our health care system or our health care providers—our own caregivers, the very people who hold our fate and our lives in their hands?
At Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine, Briana Mezuk, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Population Health, Division of Epidemiology; and Tiffany L. Green, PhD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Healthcare Policy and Research. Both are alumnae of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program.
Approximately 30 million U.S. adults currently have diabetes, and an additional 86 million have pre-diabetes. The incidence of diabetes has increased substantially over the past 30 years, including among children. Estimates place the direct and indirect costs of diabetes at a staggering $218 billion annually.1 Like many other diseases, disparities on the basis of race and income are apparent with diabetes. Non-Hispanic blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, and socioeconomically disadvantaged groups are more likely to develop diabetes than non-Hispanic whites and socioeconomically advantaged groups.
Despite the enormous economic and social costs associated with diabetes, it remains a struggle to apply what we know about diabetes prevention to communities at the highest risk. We have robust evidence from randomized controlled trials that changing health behaviors, including adopting a healthy diet and regular exercise routine and subsequent weight loss, will significantly lower the risk of diabetes. Unfortunately, these promising findings only appear to apply to the short-term. Even worse, results from community-based translation efforts have been much more modest than expected, and show only limited promise of reducing long-term diabetes risk. In response, leaders at the National Institutes of Health have noted that many efforts at translating clinical findings into community settings are “limited in scope and applicability, underemphasizing the value of context.”2
Laren Riesche, MSN, RN, is a nursing PhD student at the University of Illinois at Chicago. With clinical experience in neonatal nursing, her research focuses on the role of the placenta in fetal programming and its effect on health and disease throughout the life span. She is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Careers in Nursing alumna and an RWJF Future of Nursing Scholar.
I have been extremely fortunate to have had great leadership development opportunities throughout my nursing education, thanks in part to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). I have been privileged to be selected for two RWJF nursing education scholarship programs which are not only helping build my leadership skills, but also shaping my perspective on the importance of nurse leaders.
I am one of 16 nurses in the inaugural cohort of the Future of Nursing Scholars program, which supports nurses earning their PhDs. This August, we all participated in a leadership development workshop that was part of the very first scholars’ Boot Camp. The event was intended to help us prepare to complete our nursing PhDs in three years.
One of the activities involved choosing and then discussing a picture that represented our fears; we chose from more than 200 picture-cards that bore a wide range of images, from nature scenes to cityscapes, family events to individual athletes, and everything in between. I chose a picture of a koala bear hanging out in a tree. What I saw was a koala, all alone with nothing to hold onto but a single tree branch. It tapped into my fear that I was throwing everything I had into my PhD program, pushing my family and friends away, and losing myself in order to stay focused on finishing in three years—and maybe, in the end, the only thing I would have to hang onto was my degree.
If we want to create a Culture of Health in America, a 2015 priority must be to focus on ways to break down the barriers that separate us and keep us from being as effective and efficient as possible. Currently, health care systems, education, housing, and public health work in siloes; they are funded in siloes, and workers are trained in siloes. Yet, people’s concerns and lives are not siloed and a community health culture/system cannot be either. One of the places to begin coordinated cultural change is in schools.
Schools are a smart choice to target because nearly 98 percent of school-age children, in their formative years, attend school and schools provide access to families and neighborhood communities. The Department of Education’s Full-Service Community Schools Program and Whole School, Whole Child, Whole Community Initiative reminds us that, in order for children to be educated, they need to be healthy and there must be a connection between school and community.
There are many school health initiatives in place, such as healthy food choices, physical fitness, healthy policies, school health services, community support, and after-school programs. The potential is there—but so are the siloes. But when schools are appropriately staffed with school nurses, the nurses help break down the siloes; that is because school nurses are extensions of health care, education, and public health and thus can provide or coordinate efforts to ensure a holistic, resource efficient, healthy school community.
Rachelle Bernacki, MD, MS, is director of quality initiatives in the department of psychosocial oncology and palliative care at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, associate director of the Serious Illness Care Program at Ariadne Labs, and an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Clinical Scholars program (2004-2006).
The Institute of Medicine recently released a report entitled Dying in America: Improving Quality and Honoring Individual Preferences Near the End of Life. The news headlines read: “Panel Urges Overhauling of Health Care of End of Life.”
Here’s why: Most Americans wish to die at home and want to avoid heroic measures to keep them alive. Yet most die in institutional settings like hospitals and nursing homes, and 20 percent die in intensive care units.
The transition of death from the home to institutional settings over the past 40 years has been promoted by the advent of new medical technologies. While these remarkable technologies can be life-saving for certain patients, for many others aggressive therapies may simply prolong the dying process and extend suffering. In addition, many patients who die in institutional settings die with undertreated pain and difficult or labored breathing. And many report inadequate communication with their physicians about their end-of-life preferences.
Numerous studies show that patients want to have conversations about their end-of-life care and expect their physicians to initiate these discussions. When these conversations occur, there is greater alignment between patients’ wishes and the care they receive; higher patient quality of life; less frequent use of non-beneficial life-sustaining treatments; more use of hospice care; reduced family distress; and reduced resource use and costs. However, many physicians do not feel comfortable having these conversations and, in fact, identify more barriers to having these discussions than do patients.
Tatiana Sadak, PhD, PMHNP, is an assistant professor at the University of Washington School of Nursing and a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholar (2013-2016). She is working to promote “dementia caregiver activation,” a process of preparing caregivers to become ready to manage the multiple needs of loved ones with dementia while caring for themselves.
The well-documented personal and societal burdens of dementia are the central focus of the National Alzheimer’s Plan, which calls for extensive reforms in the delivery of health care for patients with dementia and their family caregivers. RWJF answered this national call to action by funding several innovative dementia health services research projects and nurturing the careers of junior dementia researchers.
I was fortunate to receive RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars funding. It will make it possible for me to focus a majority of my time on improving health services for people living with dementia and for their family care partners—or ‘caregivers.’
Dementia patients suffer brain failure that leads to progressive loss of autonomy and the inability to understand and meet personal health care needs. Clinicians conduct health assessments, create care plans, and treat symptoms, but it is dementia family caregivers who deliver the day-to-day care and health management these patients need. There is, however, considerable variation in their capacity to assist care recipients in making health care decisions, for providing daily care, and for navigating health care systems.
I live in rural Minnesota, and my passion is to make a significant contribution to improving dementia care in our society and to be an advocate for all seniors with dementia in their quest to maintain their basic human right to dignity, choice, and quality of life until their death.
My mother, Evelyn Holly, passed away 16 years ago. She spent the last seven years of her life being bounced from one nursing home or residential dementia facility to another, and in and out of hospital geri-psych units, all because of her so-called “challenging and aggressive behavior.” She spent the last year of her life strapped in a chair and drugged so she would be “compliant.” I imagine many of you have had similar experiences. Click on this link to view a video about my personal struggle with dementia care—a struggle that has fueled my passion to improve it.
After many years of heartache and frustration in my struggle to find appropriate care for my mother, and after being told repeatedly by others in the health care industry that the kind of dignified care that I visualized was impossible because it was too expensive, I discovered that I could not find any financial support for trying something different. I decided to use my own life savings to try to develop a model of specialized dementia care that would focus on the unmet emotional and spiritual needs of persons with dementia, many of whom are unable to communicate those needs, and to meet their physical needs as well.
Barbara Bricoli, MPA, is executive director of Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders (NICHE), an international program based at New York University’s College of Nursing that is designed to help improve the care of older adults. The program was developed by Terry Fulmer, PhD, RN, FAAN, chair of the National Advisory Committee for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Executive Nurse Fellows program.
The rapid expansion of the aging population is a national concern. Nearly 20 percent of the U.S. population will be over age 65 by 2030, according to the U.S. Administration on Aging. And our aging population will place a heavy burden on our health care system; older adults, in fact, are hospitalized at three times the rate of the general population.
Yet health care providers lack adequate training in geriatrics and gerontology to care for older patients. Nurses Improving Care for Healthsystem Elders (NICHE) is working to change that.
Based at New York University’s College of Nursing, NICHE aims to better enable hospitals and health care facilities to meet the unique needs of older adults and embed evidence-based geriatric knowledge into health care practice. Hospitals and organizations that adopt NICHE report improved outcomes, decreased lengths of stay, better patient and staff satisfaction levels, and higher success in building systemic capacity to effectively integrate and sustain evidence-based geriatric knowledge into practice.