Transforming Rural Health Through Economic Development

Nov 17, 2021, 11:00 AM, Posted by Maryam Khojasteh

The challenges and opportunities for rural America are complex. While rural economic development has come a long way in the last 40 years, we still have a lot to learn. 

Aerial image of a rural town.

To mark National Rural Health Day, RWJF’s Maryam Khojasteh sat down with Janet Topolsky, executive director of the Community Strategies Group at the Aspen Institute, to talk about rural economic development, the challenges and opportunities facing rural America, and what the future holds for improving rural economies. Topolsky, who is stepping down after a 40-year career working on developing opportunities and capacity in rural America, oversees the development of the Thrive Rural framework, an effort begun by the Aspen Institute Community Strategies Group (Aspen CSG) in partnership with the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. The Thrive Rural framework aims to organize learning, strengthen understanding, and catalyze and align action around what it will take for communities and Native nations across the rural United States to be healthy places where everyone belongs, lives with dignity, and thrives.

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Four Ways to Support Men in Solving America’s Caregiving Crisis

Nov 9, 2021, 11:00 AM, Posted by Gina Hijjawi

Caregiving is one of the greatest challenges of our time, with significant implications for families and our economy. REGISTER HERE for a December 9 discussion about caregiving with RWJF President and CEO Rich Besser, and Ai-jen Poo, co-founder and executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, and co-founder and director of Caring Across Generations.  

Men and children illustration.

The pandemic has exacerbated the struggles facing many who care for children, aging relatives, loved ones with disabilities, and family members who are sick with COVID-19 or other illnesses. With long-stalled federal investments in a care economy, paid family and medical leave, and other policy and workplace reforms under consideration, my colleagues and I weighed in on the role men can play in providing unpaid and paid care in a series of posts this year.

They are based on reports from New America that explore the cultural, legal, and other changes that would enable more men to do this essential work.

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How Local Leaders Can Create Socially Connected Communities

Nov 1, 2021, 1:00 PM, Posted by Risa Wilkerson

Simple steps, guided by input from community members, can help reduce social isolation and improve health, well-being, and civic engagement.

Social Connection infographic.

What happens when young men and boys of color aren’t able to be themselves in any setting? 

In San Diego, refugees from East Africa commonly experience discrimination, racism, and Islamophobia. Young men and boys, in particular, describe how they have to act one way in school, another way with friends outside of school, and another at home. It is important for the community to find ways to improve social connections, increase opportunities, and build resilience, since their social isolation can lead to unhealthy behaviors that put their health and futures at risk.

Social isolation—the lack of significant social connections interpersonally and within a community—is a “deeply consequential” public health crisis, according to U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy. He noted how “During my years caring for patients, the most common pathology I saw was not heart disease or diabetes; it was loneliness.”

Indeed, the health risks of social isolation have been compared to those of smoking and obesity, and it is linked to depression, impaired immunity, increased suicidal tendencies, and increased risk of death. 

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How Love and Hate Influence Health and Racial Equity

Oct 27, 2021, 1:00 PM, Posted by Sandro Galea

To provide color and context for RWJF’s call for racial equity research, physician and epidemiologist Sandro Galea shares personal and professional insights on why we must turn to compassion and evidence-based action to heal the nation.

Girl with umbrella. Photo Credit: Pixabay, Yumu Hunzhu CDD20

Love and hate are not always words that come first to mind when we consider strategies to advance health and racial equity. But as I watch the divisions that continue to tear people in America apart—and bear witness, too, to the compassionate love that creates space for community—I have become convinced that these are foundational influences.

I have quoted the poet W.H. Auden on the brink of World War II to highlight the stakes. “We must love one another or die,” he wrote. Seven simple words that should guide us, both as individuals and as a collective force, in deciding what to say and how to act.

If talk of the redemptive power of love sounds abstract, let me explain just how directly it influences the Culture of Health at the core of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s mission.

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Parks and Green Spaces, For the People and By the People

Oct 25, 2021, 1:00 PM, Posted by Toody Maher

Communities should be empowered to create safe, green, vibrant spaces and parks that everyone can access. Read how a group of citizens worked to support park equity, and how you can play a role, too.

A boy plays on a seesaw in a park.

The first time I visited Elm Playlot was on a bright, sunny afternoon in May 2007.

Elm Playlot is a small, one-half acre pocket park in the heart of Richmond, California’s “Iron Triangle” neighborhood. It is one of the few city parks and playgrounds in the Iron Triangle. The park serves a densely populated, diverse neighborhood that I knew was chock-full of children. However, when I visited Elm Playlot that afternoon in May, I didn’t see a single child playing there.

It wasn’t hard to figure out why.

A group of men sat on Elm Playlot’s benches drinking alcohol. The play structure and swings were tagged top-to-bottom with graffiti and menacing gang slogans. Litter was piled up around the picnic tables, the slide, and the swings: broken glass, hypodermic needles, cigarette butts, used condoms, empty liquor bottles.

Later, in conversations with community residents, I would learn that parents had regularly told their children not to play at Elm Playlot; it was too dangerous.

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What the United States Can Learn From Other Nations on Paid Leave Policy

Oct 13, 2021, 1:00 PM, Posted by Brigid Schulte, Jennifer Ng'andu

Policies like paid leave are working to advance gender equity at work and at home in other nations. We just need to expand them here in the United States.

Parents hold their infant child.

"We are one of the only countries in the world that doesn't offer paid family and medical leave to those who need it."  —Robert Espinoza, Vice President of the Paraprofessional Healthcare Institute

A study by Better Life Lab and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation reconfirms that the U.S. status quo of gender roles, both at work and home, is not working for many families. Men are missing out on caretaking roles that enrich their lives and enhance the bonds with loved ones, while women are struggling with role overload, feeling unsupported and missing out on income and economic mobility.

In contrast to the U.S., many nations are advancing gender equity through solutions that benefit health, child development, family well-being, and advance racial equity, like paid leave. The United States can learn from the experiences of other nations that are implementing paid leave policies and find approaches that encourage fathers to take advantage of these policies.

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Grandfamilies and COVID-19: Families of Unique Origins Face Unique Challenges

Oct 12, 2021, 9:00 AM, Posted by Jennie Day-Burget

Raising a child can be hard at any age. Doing so in one’s golden years during a global pandemic introduces an array of unique challenges.

Grandfather carries grandson on his shoulders.

EDITOR’S NOTE: A shocking 140,000 U.S. children lost a parent or grandparent caregiver to COVID-19 in just 15 months, according to a study in Pediatrics, with children of color much more likely to lose a caregiver than White children.

The harm can be long-lasting. These losses also dramatically increase responsibilities for the grandparents and other relatives who step in to provide care. In a powerful post last year, RWJF’s Jennie Day-Burget looked at what Generations United has learned about the challenges facing grandparent caregivers and the policies that would support them. As Congress debates budget reconciliation, we re-share her piece.

Mel Hannah spent most of his life in service to others. He was the first African American member of the Flagstaff City Council and vice chairman of the NAACP Arizona State Conference. And, in service to his beloved family, Mel and his wife Shirley, now in their 80s, have been helping their daughter Ashley raise her three children these past years. Sadly, however, Ashley contracted and tragically died from COVID-19 in May. Ashley’s untimely death left the Hannahs as the sole caretakers for her young boys, ages 5, 4, and 1.

The Hannahs’ story exemplifies the heavy toll of the pandemic, and especially the unique and often overlooked impact it is having on “grandfamilies” or kinship families. These are families in which children live with and are being raised by grandparents, other extended family members, and adults with whom they have a close family-like relationship, such as godparents and close family friends. Astonishingly, about 7.8 million children across the country live in households headed by grandparents or other relatives. Of that number, 2.7 million do not have a parent living in the household.

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Learning with Indigenous Communities to Advance Health Equity

Oct 7, 2021, 11:00 AM, Posted by Karabi Acharya

Tribal Nations, resilient stewards of the natural resources that give us life, can lead the way to a more sustainable and healthy future. Indigenous Peoples' Day marks the urgent need to embrace the expertise they’ve held since time immemorial.  

A woman speaks into a microphone at a dance show. A Tlingit Native welcomes an audience to a community house. The traditions and leadership of the Tlingit, the people indigenous to Sitka, are infused throughout the community, including through educational and environmental programs.

For generations, Indigenous Peoples have known that our health is intertwined with the health of our earth. Their worldview recognizes that being healthy means ensuring the natural resources that give us life are well cared for.

In contrast, Western mindsets tend to view the natural world as an inventory of useful commodities—separate from, and existing only in service to, humanity. Overusing, polluting, and extracting without considering the long-term impacts has created conditions that fuel health inequities in our country: contaminated drinking water, food scarcity, air pollution, and extreme heat are contributing to poor health and driving up disease, particularly in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.

Transforming our relationship with nature is key to building a sustainable, equitable, and healthy future for all. Through the forcible removal, violence, oppression, and other injustices Indigenous Peoples have experienced, they have remained powerful stewards for many of our natural resources. Their values, practices, and policies can show us the way to heal and reclaim the health of our earth and humanity.

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How a Native American Tribe Found Healing Through Horses

Oct 6, 2021, 10:00 AM

Bring horses and Native youth together, and connections are built that can change lives. 

Editor’s note: Shortly after this video was published five years ago, Charlie Four Bear—the Native elder featured—passed away. His teachings about how to build resilience, however, continue to endure.

Deep ties to the land and close connections with animals have long helped to define Native American culture and make their way of life possible. In Fort Peck, Montana, Charlie Four Bear reclaimed that legacy by helping young people develop enduring relationships with horses. Four Bear (Dakota and Lakota) was an elder on the Fort Peck Indian reservation and a former police officer.

 “First they took away our land,” he said, describing the destruction that occurred as White settlers pushed West. “And then they took away our buffalo. And then they took our horses away.” The theft of so much Native culture, and the inequitable distribution of resources and opportunity that continues to this day, have damaged lives and undermined communities. The scars are apparent in the substance use and loss of hope revealed in one horrifying statistic: in a single year, 28 of 223 students at the local high school attempted suicide.  

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A Historic Day for SNAP

Sep 30, 2021, 1:00 PM, Posted by Jennie Day-Burget

October 1 ushered in the largest permanent benefits increase in the nearly 60-year history of what is known today as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 

SNAP benefits for health care.

A recent report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) finds that approximately 10.5% of families experienced food insecurity in 2020—the same percentage as 2019.

That finding may not seem groundbreaking. But it is truly stunning.

How is it possible that rates of food insecurity did not increase during the worst pandemic in a century? After all, the economic upheaval caused by COVID-19 was swift and severe, with a perfect storm of factors—including massive job loss, significant wage reductions, widespread school closures, and marked increases in food prices—that one would naturally assume a sizable increase in rates of food insecurity across the board would occur.

It didn’t happen.

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