Honoring the 2011 Community Health Leaders

Nov 10, 2011, 12:00 PM, Posted by mtomlinson

Last night at a ceremony in Baltimore, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) president and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA, announced the recipients of RWJF’s 2011 Community Health Leaders award. Like their fellow recipients over the past 17 years, the 2011 honorees are men and women who have overcome daunting odds to improve the health and quality of life of people living in disadvantaged and underserved communities across the country.

Many of the 10 local heroes singled out for this year’s honor took their inspiration from personal experience—a loved one’s illness, for example. Others are medical professionals who confronted a conspicuous failing in the system and devised a ground-level solution.

In one example, 2011 Community Health Leader Andrea Ivory was motivated by her own experience with breast cancer. Over the course of her diagnosis and treatment, she came to a keen appreciation of the importance of early detection. Today, volunteers at the Women’s Breast Health Initiative, which Ivory created in her hometown of Miami Lakes, Fla., go door to door – knocking on 500 doors a week, in fact – to educate women about breast cancer and the importance of early detection, and to help connect women to low- or no-cost mammograms.

Zane Gates, MD, who lived in housing projects in Altoona, Pa., as a child, made it to and through medical school, then moved back to his hometown to start a free clinic for the working poor – people who can’t afford private coverage but who earn too much to qualify for Medicaid. Later, he founded Partnering for Health Services in Altoona, which provides access to free health care to about 3,500 people a year, relying on eight volunteer doctors and a handful of paid staff. The clinic offers care and medication, and allows patients to purchase hospital-only insurance coverage for $99 a month to cover surgery and inpatient care at Altoona Regional Health System hospitals.

Those are two stories among 10, and each is as compelling as the next. Their tales lay bare the scope of the problems confronting the nation’s health care system, while reminding us of the enormous reach of a determined individual. As Lavizzo-Mourey put it, “These individuals represent the best of America. Each of our 2011 Community Health Leaders identified a dire need in their community and took personal and professional risks to address that need. They are helping the people in their communities to live healthier, better lives.”

Learn more about the 2011 Community Health Leaders here.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Human Capital Blog. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the authors.