Meet the RWJF Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico

Oct 9, 2012, 9:00 AM

This is part of a series introducing programs in the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Human Capital Portfolio. The RWJF Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico is working to increase the diversity of those with formal training in the fields of economics, political science and sociology who engage in health services and health policy research, and to become a nationally recognized locus for health policy research that will support work to inform health policy debates at multiple levels.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico is poised to have a far-reaching impact on the nation. The Center is the only institution dedicated to increasing the number of leaders from Latino and American Indian communities who will help shape the future of our nation’s health and health care.

At the heart of this work is the academic and professional development of its doctoral and post-doctoral fellows, a diverse group who are on their way to careers in health policy, academia, philanthropy, and health care financing and delivery systems. 

The Center is dedicated to preparing these future leaders through on-the-job research, policy analysis training, leadership development, and community capacity building. Through interdisciplinary research with health care professionals, and by partnering with other researchers and professional organizations, fellows pursue resolutions for complex policy issues affecting our nation’s health, especially in Latino and American Indian communities.

Lisa Cacari-Stone, PhD, and Celia Iriart, PhD—both senior fellows at the Center and assistant professor and associate professor of family and community medicine, respectively—are examining issues that contribute to health and health care disparities in Latino communities.

Cacari-Stone studies ways to improve health policy and public health systems for Latino communities in the Southwest. Her recent project, “Talking About Health and Health Care: Experiences and Perspectives of Mexican Women in the Border Region,” examines how economic, financial, political, and cultural factors often limit access to health care for women in communities along the border between  the United States and Mexico. Her groundbreaking cost-effectiveness research work, “Corazon por La Vida,” a partnership with Hidalgo Medical Services, combines community prevention initiatives with clinical process improvement for hypertension care in southwest New Mexico.

Iriart has focused her recent work on chronic malnutrition among overweight Latino children living in adverse socioeconomic conditions. Working with the Latino community in southeast Albuquerque, N.M., Iriart and her team have developed a pilot program to examine the dynamics between immigrant Latino communities, their environments, and attitudes toward food. They are also educating these groups on healthy eating with the foods available in the United States, and on the link between food choices and overall health.

In addition, the Center focuses on inserting the perspectives of Latino, American Indian, and other underrepresented groups into the most pressing health policy debates. The Center has partnered with the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) to establish the National Policy Institute on Building Healthy Communities. This effort is sponsored by the NALEO Educational Fund’s Healthy Communities Initiatives, and it provides an intensive leadership development program. The program’s design aims to enhance the capacity of elected and appointed Latino officials for policy-making. The goal is to improve the quality of life for residents in the jurisdictions of these officials, and to address the epidemic of childhood obesity both in these specific communities and throughout the nation.

The RWJF Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico is creating opportunities for more people from Latino and American Indian communities to contribute to the national dialogue on health and health care issues. By doing so, the Center aims to improve the health of all communities.

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