Category Archives: Health Disparities
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.
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.
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.
Collins O. Airhihenbuwa, PhD, MPH, is professor and head of the Department of Biobehavioral Health at Penn State University. The first RWJF Scholars Forum: Disparities, Resilience, and Building a Culture of Health was held last week. The conversation continues here on the RWJF Human Capital Blog.
As we address disparities and inequities, the challenge is to think about solutions and not simply defining the problem. Most would agree that health is the most important part of who we are. It is the first thing we think about in the morning when we greet one another by asking, “How are you this morning?” It is the last thing we think about at night when we wish someone a restful night.
What may be different is what health means to us and our families. This is why place and context are important. How we think about health and what we choose to do about it is very much influenced by where we reside. Our place and related cultural differences about health are less about right or wrong and more about ways of relating and meeting expectations our families and communities may have of us, whether expressed or perceived. More than that is the way we relate to what our place means in terms of how it is defined and subsequently how that definition shapes how we define it for ourselves. In other words the ‘gate’ through which we talk about our place and ourselves is very important in having a conversation about who we are and what that means for our health.
Karen Johnson, PhD, RN, is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholar and an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing. Her research focuses on vulnerable youth. The first RWJF Scholars Forum: Disparities, Resilience, and Building a Culture of Health was held last week. The conversation continues here on the RWJF Human Capital Blog.
As Americans, we love stories about people who beat the odds and achieve success. We flock to movie theaters to watch inspiring tales—many times based on true stories—of resilient young people who have overcome unthinkable adversities (e.g., abuse, growing up in impoverished, high-crime neighborhoods) to grow into healthy and happy adults. Antwone Fisher, The Blind Side, Precious, and Lean On Me are just a few of my personal favorites that highlight the very real struggles faced by adolescents like those I have worked with as a public health nurse. My work with adolescent mothers and now as an adolescent health researcher has convinced me of the critical importance of focusing on promoting health and resilience among adolescents at-risk for school dropout.
How often do we as a society really sit down outside the movie theater or walls of academia and talk about why these young people are at risk for poor health and social outcomes in the first place, or what it would take to help them rise above adversity? If we look closely at the storylines of resilient youth, we will notice a number of similarities. Being resilient does not happen by chance: it takes personal resolve from the individual—something our American culture has long celebrated. And it takes a collective commitment from society to maintain conditions that empower young people to be resilient, and that is something that we as a society do not recognize or invest in nearly as often.
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.
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.
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.
Stress and Family Support – Two Important Social Determinants of Health for Hispanic/Latino Communities
Rosa M. Gonzalez-Guarda, PhD, RN, CPH, FAAN, is an assistant professor at the University of Miami, School of Nursing & Health Studies and an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholars program. On Friday, December 5, she will be a panelist at the RWJF Scholars Forum: Disparities, Resilience, and Building a Culture of Health. Learn more.
My research has focused on understanding and addressing behavioral and mental health disparities experienced by Hispanic/Latino communities. Although I initiated my research looking at substance abuse, violence, HIV and mental health as separate conditions that often co-occurred in marginalized communities, I soon realized that these conditions were just symptoms of an underlying phenomena— something my colleagues and I refer to as the Syndemic factor.
We have been studying the social determinants of the Syndemic factor in hopes of developing culturally tailored interventions that can potentially address multiple behavioral and mental health outcomes for the Hispanic/Latino community. From this research we have learned that interventions that address stress and family support offer promise for this community.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Jennifer Schroeder, Stephanie M. DeLong, Shannon Heintz, Maya Nadimpalli, Jennifer Yourkavitch, and Allison Aiello, PhD, MS, professor at the Gillings School of Global Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program. This blog was developed under the guidance of Aiello’s social epidemiology seminar course.
Ebola is an infectious disease that the world has seen before in more moderate outbreaks in Africa. As the devastating Ebola outbreak in West Africa has taken a global turn, fear, misinformation and long-standing stigma and discrimination have acted as major contributors to the epidemic and response. Stigma is a mark upon someone, whether visible or invisible, that society judgmentally acts upon. Ebola has become a significant source of stigma among West Africans and the Western world.
In many ways, the source of this discrimination can be traced back to the legacy of colonialism and the western approach to infectious disease response in Africa. The history of foreign humanitarian aid has sometimes dismissed cultural traditions and beliefs. As a consequence, trust in westerners has eroded and has been compounded by a disconnect between western humanitarian aid approaches and a lack of overall infrastructure investment on the part of African national health systems. This is apparent in the Ebola epidemic in West Africa. Some don’t actually think that Ebola exists; instead they believe that it is a hoax carried out by the Western world. All of these factors are facilitating the rapid spread of the disease.
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.
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.
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.
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:
NBC 2 (Buffalo, New York) interviewed Carol S. Brewer, PhD, RN, FAAN, co-director of RWJF’s RN Work Project, for a story about the nursing shortage and job prospects for nurses early in their careers. “We are not seeing as much demand for brand new graduates,” Brewer said. However, the anticipated retirement of many older nurses and the increasing demand for health care as a result of the Affordable Care Act could combine to create a 19-percent increase in demand for nurses in the near future, Brewer said. In the meantime, she suggests that new nurses be willing to relocate and look for nursing jobs in rural communities, where demand is greater.
It is important to keep media and public focus on the Affordable Care Act, Jake Haselswerdt, PhD, an RWJF Scholar in Health Policy Research, tells the Independent Voters Network website, because some states are still blocking full implementation of the law. “In order for the more stubborn states to move forward with implementation and expanding care, there may need to be some continued pressure,” he said. “That’s going to require the media to pay attention to the big disparities that are emerging between states that tried to implement the law and those that resisted.”
Tina Bloom, PhD, RN, an RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholar, led training for nurses in Columbia, Missouri, aimed at helping them identify the risk factors and symptoms of domestic violence, and then to support victims, ABC17 News reports. The training is consistent with preventive care provisions in the Affordable Care Act, the article says. Among other things, Bloom teaches nurses to look for certain types of injuries and for issues in patients’ medical histories that do not make sense.