RWJF Honors Six Communities with the 2014 Culture of Health Prizes

Jun 26, 2014, 11:34 AM


Building a Culture of Health—one where health is a part of everything we do—will not be an easy task. In fact, it will be very hard, admitted Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD, MBA, president and CEO of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

It’s a “call to action for all of us,” said Bill Frist, “but these six communities show it can be done.” The six communities in question are the 2014 winners of the RWJF Culture of Health Prize, announced yesterday at the Aspen Ideas Festival. Each community, while different in its own way, thinks about health in a whole new way, as being impacted by all aspects of daily life—from food production to urban design.

Why were these communities chosen from more than 250 applicants from across the country? They’re harnessing the power of partnerships; focusing on lasting solutions; working on the social and economic factors that impact health, such as education and poverty; creating equal opportunities for health for everyone in the community; making the most of resources; and measuring and sharing results.

But what really sets the Prize communities apart, said Lavizzo-Mourey—the “magic ingredient” and the “secret sauce”—are passion, purpose and even joy.

The six prize-winning communities are:

  • Brownsville, Texas, where an active transportation plan and improved community infrastructure are creating new opportunities for residents. “We’re working hard to make the healthy choice the right choice,” said Art Rodriguez, Brownsville Public Health Director. “We see wellness, education and economic development as intertwined.”
  • Buncombe County, North Carolina, which is working to prevent childhood poverty through long-term policies while also helping those in need today. “We have to address poverty, look at access to health care, transportation, and education to make sure everyone has the same opportunities for health throughout the community,” said Gibbie Harris, Buncombe County Health Director.
  • Durham County, North Carolina, which is ensuring that its most vulnerable residents have access to the county’s repository of world-class health resources, high-skilled jobs and places to exercise. “We have a vast amount of resources and large pockets of poverty,” said Gayle Harris, director of the Durham County Department of Public Health. “We know if we’re going to improve health we have to act on the many things that determine how healthy we’ll be.”
  • Spokane County, Washington, is addressing generational poverty by partnering with business leaders to improve high school graduation rates and better prepare the students for jobs in Spokane’s high-tech industries. Public school graduation rates have climbed from a 60 percent graduation rate in 2006 to 80 percent in 2013. “When there’s a shared vision for health in the community, the progress can be seen,” said Alisa May, executive director of Priority Spokane.
  • Taos Pueblo, New Mexico—a sovereign American Indian nation—is improving the way it shares information, seeks input and includes the community, while returning to time-honored traditions to meet modern health challenges. “We're taking responsibility for our own destiny,” said Shawn Duran, Tribal Programs Administrator for Taos Pueblo.
  • Williamson, West Virginia, is repurposing its ingenuity and resources as a former coal town to support and build a community grounded in a vision for health, with such varied tactics as supporting entrepreneurs and revolutionizing diabetes management. Patients who went through a diabetes management program experienced a drop in hemoglobin A1c levels by 2.2 percent. “That’s huge,” said Dino Beckett, DO, CEO of the Williamson Health and Wellness Center. “If you were a drug manufacturer and you were able to drop [A1c levels] by just 0.6 percent, you would have a billion-dollar drug.”

“In this time of pessimism,” said RWJF Board Member Patti Gabow to the group of Culture of Health Prize winners, “you have created a culture of hope.”

>>Read more about the 2014 RWJF Culture of Health Prize winners.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.