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Disability Inclusion: Shedding Light on an Urgent Health Equity Issue

Dec 2, 2019, 11:00 AM, Posted by Richard Besser

We cannot achieve a Culture of Health until our nation is fully inclusive. Yet systemic factors prevent many people with disabilities from thriving.

Next year will mark 30 years since the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) became federal law—first of its kind legislation that outlawed discrimination against people living with physical or mental disabilities. It was a culmination of decades of challenging societal barriers that limited access and full participation of people with disabilities.

And yet in spite of the ADA’s passage, we still have a long way to go before society is fully inclusive of the 61 million people living in this country with some type of disability. Judy Heumann understands that while the ADA is important, in practice, “we’re not done yet." She is currently a leading advocate for disability inclusion and has been an advisor to institutions like the U.S. State Department, the World Bank, and the Ford Foundation. As a child, Judy was barred from going to school because she used a wheelchair. Years later, she was denied a teaching license for the same reason. These obstacles to education and employment are just two of many barriers that stand in the way of inclusion. Judy understood the need for strong advocacy in partnership with others experiencing continuous discrimination because of their disabilities. This discrimination is also often compounded by class, race, ethnicity, religion, gender, age, or sexual orientation among other characteristics.

I had the chance to personally meet Judy at the first convening of the Presidents’ Council on Disability Inclusion in Philanthropy this year. Darren Walker of the Ford Foundation and I are co-chairing this group of 13 other foundation executives to champion inclusion of people with disabilities in our own institutions and within philanthropy. We have a lot to learn from Judy and many others who have challenged systems and paved the way to making our nation more inclusive.

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A Journey From Philanthropy to Public Health and Back Again

Aug 15, 2018, 11:45 AM, Posted by Joe Marx

Brian Castrucci traces his path to CEO of the de Beaumont Foundation back to a “life-changing” internship at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

A sign in a community park.

Many of us have had those moments in life where the decisions we make alter the path our lives take. Brian Castrucci, the newly appointed CEO of the de Beaumont Foundation, had one of those pivotal moments back when he had completed his first year of graduate study in public health.

At 24 years of age, Brian had a decision to make: return to school to complete his master’s degree in public health or accept a one-year internship at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). He chose RWJF, and, he says, “it’s made all the difference.”

“What would I have missed if I hadn’t done that internship?” Brian told me in a recent conversation. “Simple. How to think. How to dream. How to boldly take on a change that is needed even when you know it’s going to be really hard.”

He considers that year the base for much of his early career success. Not only did he learn to think strategically and tackle big problems, like youth tobacco and substance use, but he saw models of partnership, collaboration, and how people at the top of their game work together to advance the field and change lives. “I had a chance to interact with, and learn from, leaders who I had read about in class. It was like a public health fantasy camp.”

And then, just as he was considering a career in philanthropy, he was encouraged to walk through another door. As his internship was ending, Brian told former RWJF Senior Scientist Tracy Orleans, one of his mentors, that he was interested in staying on at RWJF. She wisely noted that wasn’t the best idea for a young person with a spark of public health passion. If he was to be truly effective in philanthropy, she told him, he needed time in the trenches.

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What’s the Connection Between Residential Segregation and Health?

Apr 3, 2018, 4:00 PM, Posted by Donald F. Schwarz

Residential segregation is a fundamental cause of health disparities. We need to take steps that will reduce health risks caused by segregation and lead to more equitable, healthier communities. 

Graphic illustration depicting residential segregation

For some, perhaps the mere mention of segregation suggests the past, a shameful historic moment we have moved beyond. But the truth is, residential segregation, especially the separation of whites and blacks or Hispanics in the same community, continues to have lasting implications for the well-being of people of color and the health of a community.

In many U.S. counties and cities, neighborhoods with little diversity are the daily reality. When neighborhoods are segregated, so too are schools, public services, jobs and other kinds of opportunities that affect health. We know that in communities where there are more opportunities for everyone, there is better health.

The 2016 County Health Rankings released today provide a chance for every community to take a hard look at whether everyone living there has opportunity for health and well-being. The Rankings look at many interconnected factors that influence community health including education, jobs, smoking, physical inactivity and access to health care. This year, we added a new measure on residential segregation to help communities see where disparities may cluster because some neighborhoods or areas have been cut off from opportunities and investments that fuel good health. 

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Three Traits of Visionary Change Leaders

Jan 12, 2018, 9:00 AM, Posted by Kaytura Felix

We’re seeking new change leaders that embody these important qualities to help us build a healthier nation. If you share these values, consider applying for one of our leadership programs.

Caring Collaborative Committed: Three traits of visionary leaders

My change leadership journey was ignited by a spark of dissatisfaction when I was about 7 or 8 years old, growing up on the small island of Dominica. I walked into a doctor’s office with my mother, brother, and younger sister. My mother called the doctor from the phone in the lobby, and in minutes, we were whisked right into the consulting room, bypassing about two dozen other patients who looked tired and sick.

I imagined that these other families had driven for hours in a truck on dusty, potholed roads to get to this office in Roseau. They waited hours for medical care, only to be forced to wait longer to accommodate the needs of my family. That moment, jumping that line, felt awful. Right then, I decided to become a doctor so that I could make things better for people living in poverty.

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Investing in the Next Generation of Health-Focused Leaders

Sep 12, 2016, 9:00 AM, Posted by Pam S. Dickson

Collaboration—among people who don’t traditionally work together on a daily basis and who bring unique perspectives—carries the best potential to solve today's complex health and social issues effectively and equitably.

A meeting facilitator refers to a bar chart.

Looking out upon the worshippers at New Era Church in downtown Indianapolis, Rev. Dr. Clarence C. Moore sees row after row of families facing difficult challenges stemming from a pressing statewide problem: the over-incarceration of black people. Indiana ranks second in the country for the number of children who have an incarcerated parent. As a result, many children live in single-parent households or foster care, and live in poverty. Many lack a formal education until they reach kindergarten—and so they aren’t ready when they get there. They struggle, many ultimately drop out of school, and the vicious cycle continues.

“I tell my congregation that there is nothing wrong with these seeds—these children,” Rev. Moore says. “It’s the soil these seeds are planted in that is the problem.”

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Honoring Andy Hyman: A Passionate Advocate for Health Equity

Aug 4, 2016, 9:37 AM, Posted by Brian C. Quinn

A new award celebrates and pays tribute to the life and work of Andy Hyman by recognizing a champion in the field of health advocacy.

The sunrise acts as a backdrop to the Capitol Building in D.C.

My boss and mentor Andy Hyman was the kind of visionary leader who instilled a deep sense of hope in everyone he came into contact with. He inspired in us a feeling that anything was possible. It’s this kind of unwavering hope that is needed when pursuing seemingly insurmountable goals—like the goal of ensuring that everyone in America has access to affordable, quality health care coverage.

Andy led the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) work on health insurance coverage from 2006 until shortly before his untimely death in 2015. One of the things I vividly remember was his deep conviction—even when progress seemed elusive—that we could make major strides toward improving coverage for those who needed it the most. 

Among his many wonderful qualities, Andy had keen political foresight that revealed itself when I started working with him back in 2006. He predicted a window to put the spotlight on health reform in 2008, regardless of who was elected president. In preparation, he led our team in building evidence to make the case for health reform and in bolstering the capacity of community of advocates nationwide who could work on state-level reform. Once the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was enacted, Andy worked tirelessly to help implement it in the states.

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How to Build a More Diverse and Inclusive Nursing Workforce

May 9, 2016, 9:32 AM, Posted by Lucia Alfano

A nurse leader shares how she overcame significant barriers to pursue a successful career and what we can do to help minorities in nursing succeed.

Health care worker using patient monitoring equipment.

I became a nurse by accident at a time in my life when I had no direction. My family had moved from Ecuador to Queens, New York when I was a child.

As a teen, there were times when I lived in group homes or even the streets and I felt completely lost. I dropped out of junior high.

When an acquaintance suggested in passing that I enroll in the nursing program at Queensborough Community College, I followed her advice without realizing that nursing would become my calling. I had to overcome obstacles that included lack of family support, finances and even basic academic skills.

I wanted so badly to be educated, that I persevered through these struggles. I found that I loved everything that had to do with nursing—from what we learned in class, to what we learned in the clinic, to volunteer work in the community.

I believe there are many young people who, like me, would thrive in nursing. But because of their background or existing challenges, they may believe that a career in nursing is not an option. In particular, young students may think that they cannot afford nursing school.  

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Four Enduring Life Lessons from a Career in Public Health

Feb 17, 2016, 10:30 AM, Posted by Najaf Ahmad

New York City’s new deputy mayor for health and human services shares how inspirational mentors and rich experiences have cultivated her career.

Headshot of Herminia Palacio

She was abruptly awakened by a phone call at 5:00 in the morning as Hurricane Katrina was ravaging New Orleans. Evacuees were fleeing the devastation and arriving in Houston by the tens of thousands to escape. Herminia Palacio was then the executive director of Houston’s Harris County Public Health and Environmental Services. She had until 11:00 p.m. to figure out how to care for them.

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Change Leaders: A New Network, Engaging Every Sector, to Build a Culture of Health

Feb 12, 2016, 10:00 AM, Posted by Pam S. Dickson

RWJF is opening applications for new programs that support the development of diverse health care leaders as well as leaders from other sectors who can help build health into our communities and the nation as a whole.

Speakers and attendees participate in The Science of Placebo conference at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and the Harvard Medical School.

Few things inspire me like the challenge to build a Culture of Health in America. But success depends on the skills and creativity of our leaders—their ability to influence, inspire and lead in a rapidly changing world. Many of these leaders must also be part of those communities with limited resources and opportunities, if we are to tackle the pernicious effects of racism, poverty and inequity. They must represent every sector and discipline, recognizing that health is influenced by complex social factors beyond health care. These leaders have to abandon status quo, silos and their assumptions, and create a new reality.

Our Advancing Change Leadership programs continue our decades of work to support the development and diversity of health care leaders, and expands our investment to leaders from other sectors who have the passion, ingenuity and influence required to build health into our communities and nation as a whole. We are building a diverse network of dedicated leaders committed to equity and better health.

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New Partners, New Ways of Thinking: Supporting “Change Leadership” to Build a Healthier Nation

Nov 19, 2015, 1:17 PM, Posted by Herminia Palacio

Building a Culture of Health requires supporting and connecting leaders who can drive change by tolerating risk and seeking inspiration through collaboration.

Audience members listen during a presentation.

Building a Culture of Health isn’t easy. It may seem obvious, but think about it: Our nation didn’t develop its current Culture of Unhealth overnight. Reversing it won’t happen quickly, either. As John Lumpkin pointed out recently, paraphrasing Albert Einstein: “You cannot fix problems with the same logic you used in creating them.”

That’s why change leadership is so important.

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