Ending Homelessness, One Person at a Time

Jun 22, 2017, 12:00 PM, Posted by Maggie Willis

Santa Monica has been one of the first U.S. cities to use homeless statistics in identifying those who most urgently need care and services. They share five key lessons from their efforts.

When people think of us, many envision a wealthy beach community dotted with hip boutiques and bistros overlooking beautiful sunsets.

But here in Santa Monica we face stark, complicated issues—including homelessness—like any other city. In fact after seven years of stability, our homeless population spiked significantly this year (2017) to 921. This is a 26 percent increase over 2016. It’s part of a regional homelessness crisis in Los Angeles County, which also saw a 23 percent increase that stems from a lack of affordable housing.

Believe it or not, the problem was once even worse. In 2005, we counted nearly 2,000 people experiencing homelessness!

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How Prepared is Your Community for an Emergency?

May 24, 2017, 3:00 PM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough, Michelle Larkin

America’s preparedness for managing health emergencies is improving, yet progress is slow and regional inequities persist. Miami-Dade County shows us that actively engaging communities is key to improving local health security.

Hurricanes and tornados, Zika and Ebola, wildfires and flash floods, terrorist attacks and tainted water systems. Threats to American health security are on the rise and could hit U.S. communities at any time. The responsibility for preparing for potential threats and keeping people safe doesn’t fall on any one official or institution but on diverse and diffuse government agencies, health care organizations, public health, non-profit organizations, business leaders and community members.

Since 2013, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has been measuring how ready our nation is to face emergencies that threaten health and well-being through the National Health Security Preparedness Index (Preparedness Index).

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The Man in the Red Cross Blanket

May 17, 2017, 9:00 AM, Posted by Susan Hassmiller

In this personal essay, Sue Hassmiller shares how an ICU nurse helped her face the most difficult milestone of her life—and discover a deeper meaning of a Culture of Health.

Editor’s note: In September 2016, Bob Hassmiller, beloved husband of our own Sue Hassmiller, our senior adviser for nursing, was involved in a bicycle accident that left him critically injured and ultimately took his life. We asked Sue to share her story—and she very graciously agreed—because we believe that a Culture of Health is possible even when people are at their very sickest. She tells us how.

My life is separated into two time periods: Before my husband’s accident—and after.

Bob and I were married for 37 years, and he was, in every aspect, my best friend. While I traveled frequently for work—work I am very passionate about—Bob was the person I came home to, my bedrock, my backstop and my biggest fan. We knew each other as only two married people who have been together for so long can. And we relied on each other for our very different strengths.

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Rich Besser’s Journey of Service

May 11, 2017, 11:00 AM, Posted by Najaf Ahmad

From his Princeton roots to his experiences as a pediatrician, public health practitioner and journalist, Rich Besser shares stories and lessons from a career dedicated to service in this Q&A.

Rich Besser was a fourth-year medical student when he found himself performing his first (and last!) solo emergency Cesarean section at a hospital tucked within a rural Himalayan village in Manali, India.

He had come to Lady Willingdon Hospital eager to learn about health problems facing people within the developing world, and worked under a gifted local surgeon, Dr. George “Laji” Varghese. Providing care for the underserved population there was no small feat. For instance, the power would often go out during surgeries, requiring someone to hold a flashlight over the operating table.

Dr. Laji one day left Rich in charge as he departed for a week-long meeting. Before leaving, as a precaution, he walked Rich through how to perform an emergency Cesarean section since they were high up in the mountains and hours away from the next health care facility.

Sure enough, a few days later a woman who’d struggled through labor for over a day arrived. A senior nurse noted that the baby’s heart didn’t sound good.

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How Nurses Are Caring for Their Communities

May 8, 2017, 1:15 PM, Posted by Nancy Fishman

Let’s recognize nurses for the roles they play within and beyond the health care setting.

I was a visiting nurse early in my career, working outside the bricks and mortar of our health care system to provide care directly in patients’ homes. I saw firsthand the important role that the home and neighborhood environment plays in shaping health. I’m no longer a visiting nurse who sees patients, but I’m still a nurse who is building a Culture of Health—through my work here at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and out in the community.  

I recently volunteered with Habitat for Humanity in Trenton, where my colleagues and I helped build affordable homes for people in need of them. The tasks assigned to me didn’t require any nursing-specific skills, but many of the same qualities nurses bring to the job every day—teamwork, empathy, the ability to multi-task, and understanding how the conditions we live in affect our physical and mental well-being—made me feel comfortable (and even somewhat competent) on a construction site.

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Boosting A Baby’s Brain Power by Supporting Parents and Caregivers

May 1, 2017, 12:00 PM, Posted by Kristin Schubert

Caring relationships stimulate babies’ brain growth during the most critical years of their development. RWJF and ZERO-TO-THREE are working together to help policymakers hear from families about policies that support them in providing what the latest science tells us all babies and toddlers need.

Did you know that more than one million new neural connections form every second in the first few years of a child’s life? The science is clear. Our brains grow faster from birth to age three than at any other later point in our lives. A baby’s early experiences and relationships stimulate these neural connections, laying the foundation for emotions, language, behavior, memory, physical movement and more.

That’s some serious brain growth, and a serious task for new parents. Anyone who knows or is already a parent will tell you that nobody does it alone. All families need support in order spend quality time with their babies and surround them with caring relationships and early experiences that will help them thrive in childhood—and for a lifetime.

That’s why ZERO TO THREE and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) launched the Think Babies campaign to help families let policymakers know that the healthy development of infants and toddlers should be a national priority.

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New Effort Will Give Researchers Access to Valuable Health Datasets

Apr 24, 2017, 9:00 AM, Posted by Katherine Hempstead, Priya Gandhi

A new program is providing research teams with $750,000 in funding and access to rich health data. In doing so, we're hoping to create opportunities for researchers to use this data to inform policy and improve systems.

Many of us track health data without even thinking about it. With our step counters, fitness tracker apps, and “smart” watches, we collect thousands of points of data about ourselves—data we hope to use to make us healthier and more fit (or motivate ourselves to work harder). Now think about all the data health care providers and insurance companies track. That data, if put together and de-identified to protect privacy, could help researchers spot health trends in certain geographic areas. That data could help researchers see if there are linkages between people with chronic conditions and what type of health plans they choose.

Now, imagine you know about a library of health data, but it’s locked in a room that is in a building that costs money to enter, requires legal negotiation, and is not organized for researchers to use.

For many researchers, this analogy is more real than you think. Many valuable health datasets are actually this elusive. Proprietary datasets may be hard to obtain due to cost, or have technical/systems requirements that make it difficult for researchers to access and actually use.  

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System and Services Research for Better Health

Apr 18, 2017, 8:30 AM, Posted by Oktawia Wojcik

How can we identify the system-level strategies needed to improve the delivery of medical, public health, and social services? With $2 million in funding, we’re calling on research teams to find out.

What does it look like when systems work better together?

At Arizona State University, a research team is exploring this very question. By integrating data sources from Arizona’s medical, mental health, and criminal justice systems, they’re looking for ways to effectively coordinate health and support services for those confronting mental health or substance abuse challenges. The study uses systems modeling and network analysis methods to see how individuals and dollars move between and within these systems. These insights will help us better understand how changes in financing and service delivery can improve health outcomes.

Over at Drexel University, a team is studying how aligning Medicaid coverage for behavioral services with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program (TANF) can reduce children’s developmental risks, improve future employment and income, and reduce the return of beneficiaries to the TANF program.

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Innovations from Abroad Are Keeping Seniors Socially Connected

Apr 13, 2017, 10:00 AM, Posted by Susan Mende

From a dementia village to the next AirBnB for seniors, global entrepreneurs are searching for ways to improve the lives of a rapidly aging population. Their lessons can inform efforts right here in the United States where the elderly population is expected to more than double by 2060.

Through the plate glass window of the café where I sipped my coffee, I watched an older gentleman bend to pick something off the ground. He did this repeatedly: down and up, down and up. I learned that he did this every day for hours, picking up fallen leaves.

The man had dementia and lived in Hogewey, a community outside Amsterdam where older people with advanced dementia lead largely autonomous lives in familiar, welcoming surroundings. This particular gentleman liked to pick up leaves—and why not? It did him no harm; in fact, it gave him a little exercise, and he probably found the activity relaxing.

Hogewey is unique—a gated, village-like community where those with dementia live in small-group homes that look and feel like real homes, with people of similar backgrounds and experiences. Caregiving and other staff support them in everyday activities and blend into the environment, serving as grocery store clerks, hairdressers, bartenders, and neighbors.

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How Can We Help Boys and Young Men of Color Heal, Grow, and Thrive?

Apr 5, 2017, 9:00 AM, Posted by Maisha Simmons

A new effort will fund up to nine organizations committed to helping stem a systemic tide of trauma that boys and young men of color face. The ultimate goal is to bring healing and hope to a thriving new generation.

Young performers affiliated with North Philadelphia’s Village of Arts & Humanities. Young performers affiliated with North Philadelphia’s Village of Arts & Humanities. Photo credit © 2017 Danielle Miles. Courtesy of Forward Promise.

Violence was a mainstay in George Galvis’ life from as far back as he can remember: His earliest memory, from age 3, is of witnessing his father savagely attacking his mother. So it’s no surprise that he brought what he learned at home to the streets. That ended at age 17, when he was incarcerated for multiple felonies, including attempted murder for his involvement in a drive-by shooting.

Once he left prison, Galvis began a healing journey that led him to embrace his American Indian roots and reclaim his culture. It also steered him to college, where he studied hard and earned a degree. Now a youth activist and executive director of Communities United for Restorative Youth Justice, Galvis spends some of his time teaching young people how to heal from trauma. While it’s true that too often “hurt people, hurt people,” he says it’s equally true that “healed people, heal people.”

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