Putting the Needs of the Community Front and Center

Dec 11, 2017, 8:00 AM, Posted by Paul Lindberg

In the rural Columbia Gorge Region of Oregon and Washington, promoting better health for all means asking what community members need, listening to what they say, and including their ideas in programs and services.

The Columbia Gorge Region where I live is a vast rural area larger than Connecticut but with a population of only 75,000. While many people here are doing well, others live in poverty, or have to drive long distances to get to a doctor’s office. In this land of fruit orchards, one in five people regularly run out of food.

Mandi Rae Pope was once one of those people. A few years ago, during a difficult pregnancy at the end of her husband’s graduate studies, Pope says she was “counting pennies out of a Mason jar to pay for gas.” She struggled with migraines, and they were getting worse. In the midst of all that, our local Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program gave her a prescription for Veggie Rx, a program we started to provide free fresh fruits and vegetables to people struggling with food insecurity. This was a top concern that community members had identified. By using Veggie Rx, Mandi Rae was able to provide fruit to her toddler son, and the more nutritious diet also helped tame her migraines. Grateful for the help, she wanted to pay if forward and expressed an interest in promoting the program.

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For a Healthier Nation, Let’s Look to Nurses!

Nov 30, 2017, 12:00 PM, Posted by Paul Kuehnert

From the time of Florence Nightingale, nurses have applied a holistic approach toward treating patients within the context of their communities. Today, this approach entails promoting and practicing population health. To do so effectively, nurses need supportive educational, policy, research, and workplace environments.

My passion for public health was ignited early on in my career in nursing, serving children and families in St. Louis’ Head Start program. I quickly realized that the health of the individuals for whom I cared depended on a complex mix of factors—including personal choices, the opportunities they had available to them (or not), and the resources within their communities. And my time in St. Louis set me on a career path in nursing that has shown me just how integral a role nurses can play in the health of not just their individual patients, but the broader population.

Nurses have always played a key role in improving our nation’s health and well-being. We see people—not just at different stages of their lives, but also in all of the different places our patients live—using nursing skills and expertise to care for them in many different ways.

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The Farm That's Growing Healthier Generations

Nov 20, 2017, 10:12 AM, Posted by Jasmine Hall Ratliff

Over a million New Jerseyans don’t know where their next meal will come from. A nonprofit farm seeks to change that by working with schools, advocacy groups, distributors and more to bring over a million pounds of fresh produce to low-income communities while educating future generations about healthy eating.

Fourteen-year-old Destiny remembers the spring day when she and a bunch of other kids planted rows of string bean seeds in the dark, loamy earth.

“There was nothing there,” she says, pointing at the dense green plants whose abundant leaves now shelter countless sweet, crunchy pods.

Today, Destiny is back here—with a couple dozen other children—to harvest the beans and bring them home for dinner. Later, the children will add freshly picked nectarines, cucumbers, and green peppers to their goodie bags. They’ll also go home with recipes for preparing those foods.

It’s one in a series of Kids Farm Days at America’s Grow-a-Row, a nonprofit farm in Pittstown, Hunterdon County, N.J., that provides fresh produce to people in underserved communities, as well as hands-on education to kids about healthy eating.

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In Rural America, Community-Driven Solutions Improve Health

Nov 15, 2017, 2:55 PM, Posted by Katrina Badger

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution to improving health. A lot is being done across the country to make rural places healthier and thriving, with state and national policies enabling local innovation.

I grew up in southwestern Ohio, surrounded by woods, corn and soybean fields down the road from a small town. Although my childhood home fits what some might see as a stereotypical description of small town America, I never thought of it that way. Now, as a program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) working to promote healthy, equitable communities, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to a number of rural places and small town across the United States and see the vast diversity of these places and the people who live in them.

Encompassing about three quarters of our nation’s land and home to about 15 percent of the population, rural and small town America is not just one kind of place. It includes the Midwest like the area where I grew up, and nearby Appalachia. It’s also places like the Mississippi Delta and the “Black Belt” of fertile land in the South, unincorporated colonias and many places along the U.S.-Mexico border, remote and geographically isolated “frontier” areas across the West, and Native lands across the country.

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How Supportive Housing Uplifts Families in Crisis

Oct 26, 2017, 3:00 PM, Posted by Kerry Anne McGeary

Irma’s troubled life culminated in being thrown down the stairs when she was six months pregnant. Thanks to a program that’s addressing system-wide change, Irma and her family are now safe and secure with a new home and a brighter future. 

Supportive Housing program case worker, Melissa Rowe (right) with her client Irma and three of Irma's four children. Supportive Housing program case worker, Melissa Rowe (in white shirt) with her client Irma and three of Irma's four children: Joel, age 5, Delicia, age 3 and Julio, age 18 months.

From too early an age, Irma faced a seemingly endless series of traumatic events that life threw at her as best she could—on her own.

But after a domestic crisis left her hospitalized, homeless, jobless, and in danger of losing her infant son, Irma finally received help from a supportive housing program that changed her life.

Keeping Families Together (KFT)—the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF)-supported model for the program that helped Irma turn her life around—has become my own personal touchstone for what building a Culture of Health should look like in the real world.

Irma’s story illustrates both the power of this model and the inner resilience that so many struggling families possess.

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Why Discrimination Is a Health Issue

Oct 24, 2017, 6:00 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. 

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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Help Us Find Solutions for Social Isolation

Oct 19, 2017, 2:00 PM, Posted by Maryjoan Ladden

We’re providing a total of $2.5 million in funding, looking for the best ideas from around the world that can address social isolation in the United States.

I remember reading the story of a dying patient who, when asked who to call as his life was ending, he replied, “no one.” He had absolutely no immediate family or close friends. Dr. Druv Khullar who wrote the piece noted "the sadness of his death was surpassed only by the sadness of his solitude. I wondered whether his isolation was a driving force of his premature death, not just an unhappy circumstance."

This profoundly sad story struck me to my core.

Not everyone has a social network to call on when they need people by their side. Many people feel disconnected from society and from life, and that contributes to a host of physical, mental and emotional health problems. In fact, according to experts, social isolation is as bad for your health as smoking, obesity, elevated blood pressure, and high cholesterol.

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Does the Mind Impact Health? A Researcher’s Insights

Oct 12, 2017, 12:00 PM, Posted by Alia Crum

Psychologist Alia Crum’s research reveals that the way we think about our health can change our health outcomes. She explains the surprising ways mindsets influence health, and how we can use them to improve well-being.

Three days before my regional gymnastics meet in Arkansas I landed awkwardly on a practice vault, clashing my inner ankle bones. The pain was excruciating—as was the prospect of an injury crushing my dream of competing nationally. I was determined to go on, so I decided to adopt the mindset that I could mentally overcome my physical injury. I diligently iced, taped and tended to it while visualizing myself making it to nationals in spite of the setback.

I competed and placed high enough to qualify, and was elated as well as surprised by how little the pain had affected me. Another surprise: An x-ray the next day showed that my ankle had been broken.

My experience at age 10 shows the power of mindset—the frame of mind through which we perceive, interpret, and organize an inherently complex world. The ability to make sense of the world through our mindsets is a natural part of being human. But the mindsets we hold are not inconsequential. In fact they change reality by influencing our attention, affect, motivation, and physiology. I had decided my injury wasn’t going to influence my performance, and almost impossibly, it didn’t.

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New Sesame Street Tools Help Build Resiliency

Oct 6, 2017, 12:30 AM, Posted by Jeanette Betancourt, Kristin Schubert

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Sesame Street are partnering to help families cope with traumatic experiences and foster nurturing connections between children and the caring adults in their lives.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Sesame Workshop share a common vision of giving all children—especially the most vulnerable among us—a strong and healthy start in life. We know that childhood experiences lay the foundation for children to grow into productive and successful adults, and promoting healthy behaviors and supporting families from the very beginning can help kids thrive. But it’s equally important to address challenges that can undermine their healthy development.

Tools to Help Families Cope

That’s why we are proud to announce Sesame Workshop’s first-ever comprehensive initiative to help children cope with traumatic experiences. Research tells us that kids who experience trauma—like physical abuse, neglect, divorce, experiencing natural disasters, or witnessing violent acts—are more likely to face serious health issues as an adult. The groundbreaking Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) study found as the number of “ACEs” increase for a child, so does the risk for cancer, heart disease, and diabetes, as well as alcohol abuse and drug use, obesity, and depression. According to new data, nearly half of children under 18 living in the United States have experienced at least one ACE. And it starts at a young age. Among children under five, 35 percent have experienced at least one ACE, and 12 percent have experienced at least two.

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New Leaders Use Telehealth—and Teamwork—to Tackle Opioid Use

Sep 26, 2017, 9:30 AM, Posted by Kaytura Felix

A pioneering team of clinicians is tearing down barriers that prevented opioid dependent patients in a rural community from receiving treatment. Their efforts—and those of leaders like them—are helping communities across the nation have an equal opportunity to lead healthier lives.

In Hagerstown, rural Maryland, tucked amongst a series of charming brick buildings is Wells House, a long-standing charity. It provides recovery services to community members battling drug and alcohol dependencies. But for some time, what Wells House didn’t have was a regular clinician to provide specific, evidence-based opioid treatment.

Wells House eventually turned to “telemedicine”—using technology to tap into a network of physicians who could provide treatment remotely. The initial idea came from Eric Weintraub, MD, director of substance abuse services at University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM). The charity had sought out his help in prescribing and managing buprenorphine treatment for clients with opioid disorders. But frequent travel out to Wells House from Baltimore posed a problem for Weintraub and his colleagues. So he turned to technology.

“It was a no-brainer,” Weintraub said. “Medication-assisted treatment is the gold standard for opioid addiction, and we have learned that telemedicine is as effective in most places as face-to-face care, so why not put the two together?”

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