Nurse Leader Shares Five Lessons on Breaking Down Barriers to Vaccination

Jul 19, 2021, 10:00 AM, Posted by Maria S. Gomez

A nurse leader who has been vaccinating a diverse community offers a candid assessment of false starts, wisdom gained, and the best way forward.

Vaccine barriers illustration.

Maria S. Gomez is a public health nurse who received a Presidential Citizens Medal in 2012 from President Barack Obama. She along with other colleagues founded Mary’s Center in 1988 an innovative community health center in the D.C. region that has been using an integrated model of health care, education, and social services for more than 30 years. Today, it serves over 60,000 people each year. Here, Gomez shares lessons learned through Mary’s Center vaccination program.

Lesson One: No Wrong Door

Mary’s Center’s vaccination program didn’t have an easy start. Like the community we serve, our team was fearful and struggling in the pandemic. Suddenly, there was a vaccine that offered promise to keep us safe, but people were confused and anxious about it. It fell to us to provide information—but first we had to educate ourselves. There was no shortcut and no chance of success unless we did. So we put in the time, even holding Town Hall Meetings with our team of nearly 800, to learn and become effective messengers.

We learned that for some in the Mary’s Center community, a lack of trust stemmed from our country’s history of medical abuse—and not just horrors like the Tuskegee syphilis study but also more recent atrocities including involuntary sterilizations of Puerto Rican women and of women detained at the U.S. border. Many in our community have experienced those abuses well.

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How Supporting Men as Caregivers Advances Gender Equity

Jul 15, 2021, 1:00 PM, Posted by Brigid Schulte, Jennifer Ng'andu

As the pandemic forced women out of the workforce in record numbers, a new survey reveals that men overwhelmingly value care work and want to share it equally with their partners. But the lack of supportive workplace cultures and public policies prevent them from doing so. Where do we go from here?

A father and son stand together in a field.

As pressure mounts to address the many challenges brought to the fore by the pandemic, our nation is experiencing a reckoning in caregiving, and what it means for families and our economy. A new nationally representative survey conducted by New America and funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, revealed that although our cultural norms have not caught up with our ideals of gender equity, men overwhelmingly value care work, and want not only to participate, but to share it equally with their partners. However, the lack of supportive workplace cultures and public policies keep them from doing so.

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How Do We Advance Health Equity for Asian Americans?

Jun 23, 2021, 1:00 PM, Posted by Mona Shah, Tina Kauh

Advancing health equity for Asian Americans requires a new narrative and solutions that acknowledge our diversity. This can help address discrimination, poverty, poor health, and more.

Woman holding poster. Photo credit: Jason Leung, unsplash

Both of us are proud of our immigrant roots and the paths our families forged after coming to the United States. Mona’s parents arrived from India, and Tina immigrated from South Korea as a toddler with her family. As members of the Asian American community, the past year’s wave of hate crimes has been painful and traumatic. But it is not new. What is new, though, is the attention these incidents and the Asian American community as a whole are receiving.

At times, these crimes bring back terrifying memories. Mona was just 10 years old when a hate group in Northern New Jersey sent a racist letter threatening Indians to a local newspaper, and the newspaper published it. The deep societal racism that letter exposed was manifested through verbal abuse, brutal assaults, and murders that occurred time and again over many years. Mona grew up hearing racist comments from police officers and teachers and seeing South Asian businesses and homes, including her own, vandalized.

At times, they remind us how few people seem to consider the intergenerational trauma and challenges faced by Asian Americans. Tina’s parents grew up in South Korea during the Korean War and her father remembers his family losing everything. Arriving in a new country not speaking the language while trying to navigate a culture with a different set of values was incredibly difficult for her parents. Adding to their stress was the need to lean heavily on their children to negotiate, translate, and serve as intermediaries with authorities and agencies.

At times, they compound the numbness and hurt we feel in the face of sometimes-profound insensitivity and endless microaggressions that add up over time and contribute to chronic stress that undeniably harms health.

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Making Data Accessible For Small Communities

Jun 22, 2021, 12:45 PM, Posted by Becky Ofrane, Ben Spoer

An online resource is putting the power of data into the hands of small communities to help them see where they stand on key measures of health.

Medical graphic.

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published in the Grantmakers In Health Bulletin.

In Clifton, New Jersey, data on children in poverty, data on obesity, and data on the percent of uninsured residents revealed such pronounced disparities among neighborhoods that the city approved a satellite health office. Now, residents who previously had difficulty getting health screenings, immunizations and other necessary public services have better access.

In Waco, Texas, a nonprofit organization used the COVID Local Risk Index, a measure of city and neighborhood-level risk of COVID transmission and mortality, to pinpoint the level of COVID risk by neighborhood. Comparing this data to the city’s COVID cases added vital context to community preparation for and response to the pandemic.

Both of these cities used data from the City Health Dashboard ("Dashboard"). Launched in 2018, the Dashboard addresses the problem of data inaccessibility for cities and communities.

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Reclaiming the Narrative of Black Fatherhood

Jun 16, 2021, 9:45 AM, Posted by Dwayne Curry

Fathers play a critical role in the healthy development of children and families. This is why it's important to address structural and systemic barriers that prevent Black men from being fully present in their children's lives—so that all families have a chance to thrive.

Black father holding his baby. Illustration by Cat Willett

My wife and I have been married since 2019, but we’ve known each other since we were 14-year-olds. We are raising a blended family. She has a daughter who is 9 and a 7-year-old son. I have a son who is 8, and together we have a 2-year-old son.

The pandemic has profoundly shaped my parenting experience in numerous ways. I had to transform my house into a combined virtual school, daycare, and work setting. The last year has negatively impacted our seven year old, who is autistic, mostly due to disruptions to the in-person support that he needs to truly thrive. Navigating these evolving dynamics, while working, running a household, and trying to stay sane has been extremely challenging. But being present in my children’s lives makes every moment worth it.

My father left when I was 3 years old. Because he wasn’t in the picture for my upbringing, in some ways, I am trying to reach an ideal as a father that I couldn’t actually see as a child. Something inside pushed me to be different, to counter the “absent Black father" narrative.

When I was younger, my perception of a father’s role was very different than it is now. I grew up in Newark, New Jersey, where norms for a Black child, a Black young adult, and a Black man could be stifling. The limits were very clear on what society deemed appropriate for a Black man, and how you were supposed to interact with others. I was never comfortable with those unwritten rules.

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Three Ways to Advance Health Equity Through Research

Jun 8, 2021, 1:45 PM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough

Learn about how we’re working to strengthen the evidence base that can guide our nation toward a more equitable future.

A diverse group working on a project.

The pandemic and this past year’s racial reckoning have given us a decisive moment. We have an opportunity to build a movement for positive change and collective healing. Part of the national awakening is recognizing the urgency to improve public health and advance equity. Today, multiple organizations and people across sectors are eager to do their part in creating a better, more equitable future.

My colleagues at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and I, too, seek bold and lasting change. We believe our path forward must be rooted in the best available evidence. What we need now, urgently, is research on how to eliminate inequities in health outcomes by addressing structural racism. How do we create evidence-based policies and practices so everyone has fair and just opportunities to thrive? 

Long-established biases in our research field have determined who conducts research, and they tend to favor the same institutions and individuals. We also have deeply held beliefs about which types of research are valuable, and too often this constrains innovation.

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Why Discrimination is a Health Issue

May 26, 2021, 11:00 AM, Posted by David R. Williams

What does the pervasiveness of discrimination mean for health? Social scientist David Williams explains the physiological response to stress and why a good education or high-paying job doesn't necessarily protect from its effects. 

A patient sits in a doctor's office while a nurse looks over his chart.

EDITOR'S NOTE: A recent NPR story (May 18, 2021) highlighted expert insights on how stress from discrimination negatively affects the health of Black men regardless of income level or educational status. Our own RWJF Trustee Dr. David Williams was featured in NPR's story.

Dr. Williams shared a similar, powerful message in a Culture of Health Blog post originally published in October 2017 that we are re-sharing. In this post, he underscored the need for all of us to work together to make America a healthier place for all.

Forty-one years after graduating from Yale University, Clyde Murphy—a renowned civil-rights attorney—died of a blood clot in his lungs. Soon afterward, his African-American classmates Ron Norwood and Jeff Palmer each succumbed to cancer.

In fact, more than 10 percent of African-Americans in the Yale class of 1970 had died—a mortality rate more than three times higher than that of their white classmates.

That’s stunning.

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How We’re Working Toward Becoming an Antiracist Community

May 13, 2021, 1:00 PM, Posted by Kimm Campbell

What does it take to overcome systemic racism and become a community where race is not a predictor of success? An assistant county administrator shares the steps her community is taking to transform vision into reality.

A group stand in a circle waving their hands. A drop-in teen wellness center in Broward County, Florida (2019). Photo credit: William Widmer

I’m a Black woman adopted from the child welfare system by White parents, and I’ve been aware of the fight for racial equality all my life. But it wasn’t until five years ago that, in the course of my work, I started focusing on equity. This is the idea that we must adjust resources, transform systems and remove obstacles to create fair and just opportunities and outcomes for Black, Indigenous and other people of color (BIPOC) so that they are supported toward success.

As an assistant county administrator for the highly diverse Broward County in Florida, I was reviewing data from our child welfare system and was struck by the disparities and disproportionality. Black families were being decimated in two ZIP codes, with child removal rates two and three times higher than that of White families.

I knew right then that we had to identify the root cause of the disparities reflected in systems that perpetuate racism—while purporting to help people—and are often a barrier to health for BIPOC in this nation.

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WIC Innovates to Support Maternal and Child Health During the Pandemic

May 7, 2021, 1:00 PM, Posted by Jamie Bussel

As unemployment and food insecurity rates soared, WIC adapted to protect access for the families it serves—but more support is needed.

A mother and child play outside.

During the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bo-Yee Poon and her children left China, where she had been studying Tai Chi for 16 years, to return home to Vermont. What she thought would be a short stay before returning to her studies turned into a much longer one as all flights back to China were grounded indefinitely. With a home but no immediate job prospects in Vermont, Bo-Yee managed to access insurance through Vermont Health Connect, which fortunately made her and her family eligible for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).     

WIC is a federal program that provides critical nutrition assistance to lower-income women, infants, and young children. In 2019, more than 6 million people participated in WIC each month, including roughly half of all infants born in the United States. 

WIC turned out to be just what Bo-Yee and her children needed. It provided access to healthy groceries and tips on how to feed her children vegetables and fruit. But more importantly, it helped alleviate her stress and anxiety around providing nutritious food for her family. She knew that even though she couldn’t work or afford childcare, her family would be taken care of. Today, WIC has helped millions of families like Bo-Yee’s eat healthy food on a lower budget, providing a sense of relief during particularly difficult times. 

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Bringing Clean, Running Water to the Navajo Nation

May 3, 2021, 12:45 PM, Posted by Cindy Howe

Broken promises and structural racism have deprived New Mexico’s Navajo Nation of safe, running water for generations. A Navajo woman shares how she is actively changing this reality, one family at a time.

Darlene Arviso fills water tanks for Navajo tribal members. The "Water Lady" Darlene Arviso fills water tanks for Navajo tribal members who do not have access to running water. Photo credit: DigDeep, 2019.

Go to the sink, turn on the tap, get yourself a glass of water. To most people in America, this sounds like the most routine of activities. But for the families I work with on the lands of the Navajo Nation in northwest New Mexico, it is not something we can take for granted. And so when water does flow from a faucet inside a home for the first time, the tears often flow with it. This is a moment of deep gratitude and joy for us.

Tó éí ííńá át’é. In the Navajo language, that means water is life. You’ll see these words painted onto our homes and graffitied across the landscape because we understand that life can not be sustained without water. In our culture, it is a sacred element, along with Earth, fire, and air.

And yet almost one-third of my tribe lacks running water. Pause for a moment to consider what that means. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that people in America use an average of 80-100 gallons of water every day. Our families know how to preserve scarce resources, so we use a lot less than that—but meeting basic water needs is still a complex, time-consuming task. Imagine the difficulty of attaching a hose to a 55-gallon water barrel, filling a bucket, and hauling it inside every time you want to cook, bathe, do laundry, or clean the house. Add in the costs of buying bottled water to make sure that what you drink is safe.  

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