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What Hurricane Katrina Taught Us About Community Resilience

Aug 27, 2015, 8:59 AM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough, Anita Chandra

Hurricane Katrina left a path of destruction, death, and suffering in its wake. Its uneven recovery has taught us valuable lessons about community resiliency that will help us prepare for the next storm and beyond.

New Oreleans St. Bernard Housing project. Girl on scooter.

Ten years ago Risa Lavizzo-Mourey visited Gulfport, Mississippi, and witnessed firsthand the devastation and ruin wrought by Hurricane Katrina. “We may not be able to fix the broken levees, restore ruined cities, house the homeless, or feed the hungry,” she wrote soon after. “That’s not our job. But we most certainly can apply Katrina’s lessons to the wide range of good work that we support...”

On the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, we must reflect on valuable lessons learned from this cataclysmic event, the complexity of recovery, and the disastrous health outcomes that can result from a fundamental distrust between residents and government agencies. Katrina’s devastation and the Gulf’s uneven recovery also have served as an opportunity for studying resiliency—the capacity of communities to prepare for, respond to, and recover from adversity whether in the form of a natural disaster, economic downturn, or a pandemic.

This emphasis on community resilience represents a paradigm shift in emergency preparedness, which has traditionally focused on shoring up infrastructure (reinforcing buildings, roads, and levees), improving detection of new hazards to human health, and being able to mount an immediate response to disasters. Katrina and subsequent threats such as Hurricane Sandy, the Florida panhandle oil spill and the H1N1 epidemic have taught us that to be truly prepared for the long-term impact of adversity communities must also develop a different set of assets: those that build strength through promoting well-being and community engagement.

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Patient and Citizen Engagement for Health: Lessons from Jönköping County, Sweden

Aug 20, 2015, 12:00 PM, Posted by Galina Gheihman, Laura Leviton

What can a small Swedish county teach us about building a Culture of Health in the United States? We visited Sweden and brought back some valuable lessons on patient and citizen engagement.

Rooftops and landscape of Jönköping, Sweden Copyright Guillaume Baviere

Imagine a society where everyone has the means and opportunity to make choices that lead to the healthiest lives possible––a society where health is valued by all, and no one is excluded because of chronic illness or other limitations. This is what we call a Culture of Health, and it’s what, in collaboration with others, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is working to build in the United States.

We know that to achieve this ambitious vision, we must look to––and learn from––promising approaches across industries, disciplines and geographic borders. This is why we recently visited Jönköping, a small county in south-central Sweden, where patient and citizen engagement has brought about remarkable results: kidney failure patients operate dialysis machines on their own schedule, complex patients—such as people with schizophrenia—actively participate in designing their own care and children’s preferences and experiences are listened to, so services can improve from the children’s point of view.

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Want a Healthier Workforce? Investing in Community Health Can Pay Off

Aug 18, 2015, 10:40 AM, Posted by Marjorie Paloma

Regardless of what sector they occupy, businesses have a critical role to play in improving the health of their employees and in forging vibrant, healthy communities beyond their own walls.

Beyond Four Walls

Nearly 80% of U.S. employers now offer workplace health promotion programs aimed at improving the health and productivity of their workers. The most comprehensive of these programs—mainly at larger companies—have employees doing yoga poses at lunchtime; 7-minute workouts during breaks, or spinning at the on-site gym. Cafeterias may offer salad bars and heart-healthy entrees while vending machines are stocked with wholesome snacks and water instead of chips and soda. Some companies provide free weight loss counseling or connect employees at risk of heart disease or diabetes with a health coach. The entire workplace may be smoke-free.

But what happens when employees leave the four walls of these healthy workplaces and go home? If they live in neighborhoods with scarce green space, poor access to active transportation, few nutritious food options, or in communities plagued by crime or pollution, it can be very difficult for employees and their families to continue making healthy lifestyle choices. For businesses, the desired impact of their workplace health promotion programs will necessarily be limited.

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Reaping the Rewards of the Culture of Health Prize

Aug 10, 2015, 3:25 PM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

It's been a year since Brownsville, Texas, won the Culture of Health Prize for its engagement of leaders across sectors to improve local health outcomes. Here's what the community has been up to since.

Brownsville, TX 2014 Culture of Health Prize Winner

Brownsville, Texas, had plenty to celebrate when it became one of six communities to win the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Culture of Health Prize in June 2014. This predominantly Hispanic city along the U.S.-Mexico border is one of the poorest in the country. Seven in 10 residents are uninsured, 8 in 10 are overweight or obese, and 1 in 3 has diabetes. Yet the community’s efforts to improve health—including new bike trails, community gardens, and a successful bilingual public health education campaign—have earned it wide respect and national recognition, along with $25,000 that goes with the RWJF Culture of Health Prize.

City officials are still discussing how to use the prize money. One option is commissioning a piece of artwork that could be moved around to highlight various initiatives, such as the periodic CycloBia events that make some of the city’s streets car-free for a day so that residents can bike, run, or engage in other physical activity.

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A New Approach to a Healthier New Jersey

Aug 5, 2015, 4:49 PM, Posted by Bob Atkins

New Jersey Health Initiatives is investing in grassroots solutions to local health challenges in our own backyard, with 10 New Jersey communities serving as laboratories to learn what it will take to build a Culture of Health.

New Jersey Health Initiatives

We’re trying a new approach to building a Culture of Health in communities across New Jersey. It’s a creative, grassroots, on-the-ground approach that could become a model for many other cities and towns across America.

For decades, folks in the health field have been working hard to turn around health inequities that mean some kids have a better chance of growing up healthy than others. They’ve done great work, but sometimes in isolation, and often making decisions based on best practices rather than authentic community engagement. Even more often, health organizations’ hands have been tied because the true causes of poor health sit in other sectors: poverty, unaffordable and poor quality housing, fractured or nonexistent transportation systems, and uneven quality education and access to jobs.

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Three Things the United States Can Learn About Public Health From Around the World

Jul 23, 2015, 10:45 AM, Posted by Najaf Ahmad

When it comes to bridging health and health care delivery, the U.S. has an opportunity to learn from global innovations that link the public health, social services, and health care systems.

Globe Image via Joseph Li

It started with three hundred Boy Scouts from across Uganda being trained as “social monitors”. They were tasked with reporting the conditions of their communities to Uganda’s Ministry of Health through their mobile phones. In less than a year, these “U-reporters” grew to over 89,000. The U-report itself is a free SMS-based system that allows young Ugandans to share what’s happening in their communities and work with community leaders and government to affect positive change. The information gathered is disseminated through radio, TV, websites, youth events, community dialogue and other ways.

This system of real time surveillance is a vital new development for the world’s fifth-fastest growing country. Reliable health information in Uganda can mean the difference between life and death. As has been seen recently, epidemics like Ebola or West Nile thrive on information delays. Furthermore, U-reports are empowering Ugandans to share responsibility for creating healthier conditions within their communities.

The U-report is just one of the many exciting global innovations highlighted in a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and AcademyHealth. Written by Margo Edmunds and Ellen Albritton at AcademyHealth, the report showcases innovations that link public health, social services, and health care systems. These initiatives serve as examples of bridging otherwise disparate elements of health and health care delivery. The authors deliberately selected racially, ethnically and economically diverse regions around the world to ensure that their innovations were applicable to and reflected the diversity of the United States. A Google Hangout also convened several experts to discuss the report’s findings.  

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Crafting Win-Win Solutions with Health Impact Assessments

Jun 22, 2015, 3:01 PM, Posted by Pamela Russo

Health impact assessments are a powerful way to help communities think broadly about the health implications and equity aspects of policies and projects, so that a comprehensive approach to health becomes routine.

Prison Alternatives Boosted by Health Impact Assessment

Last week, almost 500 attendees arrived in the nation’s capital for the 2015 National Health Impact Meeting. The impressive turnout is a testament to the growing importance of health impact assessments (HIA) as a tool to improve community health outcomes.

As this year’s meeting attendees know, an HIA is a process that helps evaluate the potential health effects of a plan, project or policy outside of the traditional health arena. The findings from a completed HIA can provide valuable recommendations to help communities more effectively foster better and more equitable health among their citizens.

The use of HIAs has grown rapidly from just a few dozen in 2000 to more than 350 completed HIAs today. Dozens more are in the works. The earliest HIAs were mostly applied to the built environment, such as zoning, land use and transportation decisions. However, today the field has expanded to include such areas as energy policies, criminal justice and living wages.

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We Went to Oxford and Got Schooled in Primary Care

Apr 23, 2015, 9:00 AM, Posted by Maryjoan Ladden, Susan Mende

As other countries continue to spend far less on health care but perform better on measurable health outcomes, there's opportunity to learn what works abroad and apply those lessons stateside.

Oxford University

It’s a hard notion for many Americans to accept—although we spend more money on health care than any other country in the world, we are far from having the best health outcomes. When you look at measures that include life expectancy, infant mortality rates and preventable illness, other countries that spend far less than the U.S. perform better. But in many of these countries people of all ages and socio-economic status are able to easily access primary care that is comprehensive, patient-centered and rooted in local communities.

One of our goals as program officers at RWJF is to look beyond our borders to identify promising practices that might be incorporated into America’s health care system. Last fall we traveled to Oxford, England, to learn first-hand about promising primary care practices in Chile, England, the Netherlands and Canada—all high and middle income countries that spend less on health care yet have better outcomes than the U.S. We attended a conference organized by the Training and Research Support Centre (TARSC), an organization supported by Charities Aid Foundation of America through a grant from the RWJF Donor-Advised Fund. TARSC provides support and training to government and civic health organizations, and the conference was the next step after its report, “Strengthening primary care in the USA to improve health: Learning from high and middle income countries.” We came away with a lot of insights from both, but were struck by several themes that were constant throughout.

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Q&A with Pau Gasol: The NBA All-Star's Health Advocacy Off-the-Court

Apr 20, 2015, 9:29 AM, Posted by Merlin Chowkwanyun

It may be NBA playoffs season, but the Gasol brothers are committed to promoting child health year round. RWJF Health & Society Scholar Merlin Chowkwanyun recently sat down with the Chicago Bulls' center to learn about his passion for health advocacy and how he's working to build a Culture of Health in the U.S. and abroad.

Gasol brothers Image credit: Joe Murphy (NBAE/Getty)

Since moving to the Chicago Bulls last summer, NBA star Pau Gasol has been having one of the most sensational seasons of his basketball career. A two-time champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, the new Bulls starting center is entering the playoffs as the league leader in double doubles, averaging about 18 points and 12 rebounds per game. In February, he and his younger brother Marc Gasol (of the Memphis Grizzlies) made NBA history as the first siblings to start in the annual All-Star Game: Pau for the East team, Marc for the West.

The two have been equally active off the court. In 2013, after years of work with various philanthropic associations, Pau and Marc formed the Gasol Foundation. It focuses on child health and works towards "a world where all children will enter adulthood physically and mentally equipped to live successful, healthy and productive lives." The Foundation recently launched outreach projects in two areas with severe socioeconomic disadvantage. Vida! Health & Wellness in Boyle Heights (Los Angeles) provides parents and children with instruction in physical activity, physiology, and fitness; healthy cooking and eating; and psychological wellness. L'Esport Suma in South Badalona (Catalonia, Spain) uses sports to promote human development and social cohesion among participants. It is run in conjunction with Casal dels Infants, a long-standing NGO in the region.

Pau has always been a very visible 7-foot presence—literally and figuratively—in Memphis, Los Angeles, and now Chicago, the three cities where he has played. Among other things, that included visiting patients and working with the Children's Hospital Los Angeles and St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, and around the world, raising awareness of refugees' plight as a UNICEF ambassador. In 2012, the NBA recognized these and many other efforts with its J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, given to only one player a season. He recently was named one of ten finalists for the NBA's Community Assist Award, and fans can vote for him on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram by typing #NBACommunityAssist and #PauGasol. 

Each year, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Health & Society Scholars at the University of Wisconsin-Madison's site complete a "'knowledge exchange" project designed to foster communication among the general public, academic researchers, and population health practitioners. As someone who grew up in Los Angeles, I cheered for Pau during his seven seasons with the Lakers but admired him just as much for what he did beyond the game. For my project this year, I wanted to interview Pau about his and Marc's plans because it seemed the Gasol Foundation's goals dovetailed with those of RWJF's Culture of Health initiative in many respects.

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U.S. Army Moves Closer to Achieving Public Health Accreditation

Apr 10, 2015, 12:55 PM, Posted by Pamela Russo

The U.S. Army is gearing up for public health accreditation for the first time, a development that opens the door for collaboration between military and civilian public health departments—leading to better health for all.

military soldier soluting

A decade ago, there was a common maxim heard about governmental public health departments that declared “if you’ve seen one health department; you’ve seen one health department.”

This tongue-in-cheek expression arose in part from the federalist administration of public health, which has resulted in public health codes that vary by state, and department-specific financing and structure. Additionally, this maxim reflected a fragmented and dysfunctional national system that lacked consistency across public health settings.

Today, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is working to realize a new era of public health defined by the application of strong and universal public health standards. That’s why the Foundation is a proud supporter of the Public Health Accreditation Board (PHAB) and their efforts to establish national performance standards for public health agencies across the United States.

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