Now Viewing: Community Health

Communities Are Using a Powerful Tool to Journey Toward Better Health

Jun 27, 2016, 2:00 PM, Posted by Kate Konkle

Communities across the United States are using data to help set goals, measure progress and provide better services that will ultimately improve residents' health.

Illustration showing how data can inform health

“Where have we been? Where are we going? How can we get there?” These are the questions facing communities who want to make health a right, not a privilege, for all of their residents. And they can’t answer these questions without one critical tool: data.

As a former community coach with the Roadmaps to Health Action Center, I was a sounding board, devil’s advocate and cheerleader all in one. I was also a data guru, helping communities use numbers to guide decisions and come together around priorities.

Data is a powerful tool in any community’s work to build a Culture of Health. A good place to start looking for data is the County Health Rankings, a collaboration of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin, because it compiles health stats on nearly every county in the nation. Other sources, such as federal, state and local departments of health, education, labor, and parks and recreation also provide useful statistics. In some cases, I advise communities to consider collecting their own data, either because the information they want isn’t already collected, or because existing sources don’t provide the rich level of detail they need about particular populations or issues.

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The Impact of Climate Change on Health and Equity

Jun 22, 2016, 9:00 AM, Posted by Alonzo L. Plough

Tackling the daunting health effects of climate change requires community leaders from all sectors to work together to meet the needs of everyone, especially the most vulnerable.

A flooded town after a big storm.

It’s been nearly 10 years, but I still remember the deadly heatwave that hit California back in July 2006 and claimed hundreds of lives.

The blistering heat lasted for 10 days, with temperatures soaring as high as 119 degrees—the highest ever recorded in Los Angeles County. The number of heat-related deaths was estimated to be as high as 450 across nine counties, including Los Angeles County.

During the five years that I worked as director of emergency preparedness and response for the Los Angeles County Department of Health, we constantly battled the health effects of really hot days, wildfires and droughts.

These weather phenomena directly impact health—and they are all linked with global climate change. Just this past weekend, during a trip to Yosemite National Park, President Obama noted, “Climate change is no longer a threat—it’s a reality.”

The people at greatest risk of serious harm from these climate change-related events include children, the elderly, people with chronic health conditions, the economically marginalized and communities of color.

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How Can Partnering with the Housing Sector Improve Health?

Jun 8, 2016, 11:00 AM, Posted by Pamela Russo, Rebecca Morley

Collaboration between public health and housing sectors can vastly improve the quality of life within communities across the nation.  

A row of homes are under construction.

The house that Robert and Celeste Bridgeford bought in Curry County, Oregon over a decade ago wasn’t just old. It was dangerous. Water damage and thin walls wracked by decades of severe storms unleashed wide swaths of mold. The damaged floors put the whole family at risk of falling, especially Robert, disabled years ago by a work injury. “We had always planned to replace the house, but... happened,” says Celeste.

The Bridgeford family—like a third of Curry County’s residents—lives in a prefab house that is manufactured in a factory and then transported to the site. About 40 percent of the prefab housing in Curry County is substandard. With little industry in the area, many families struggled to find work and couldn’t afford to fix or replace their homes.

This all started changing in 2013 when community groups, non-profits and public agencies joined to propose a pilot project for the state of Oregon. This project would, for the first time, provide low cost loans or other funds to help prefab home-owners repair or replace their homes.

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Supporting Healthy Latino Youth from Within The Community

May 4, 2016, 11:00 AM, Posted by John Govea

Latino youth continue to have higher obesity rates than their African-American and white peers, making leadership within Latino communities essential to building a Culture of Health.

A girl smiles in the lunchroom.

Praxina Guerra, a fifth grader at Five Palms Elementary School in San Antonio, is proving that even a kid can change the health and well-being of other children for the better.

Praxina is truly a passionate champion for creating a healthier school environment. She became a student ambassador for the San Antonio Mayor’s Fitness Council, and started a group called Praxina’s Pals to come up with a plan to encourage her fellow students to make healthier choices.

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Start Here: County Health Rankings Spur Momentum Toward a Culture of Health

Apr 27, 2016, 11:00 AM, Posted by Michelle Larkin

Students from summer camp look at their growing vegetables on the rooftop garden.

Every year, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation awards its Culture of Health Prize to up to 10 communities across the country. Prizewinners exemplify the importance of locally driven change in the quest to ensure everyone, no matter who they are or where they live, has the opportunity for good health. We say it often: When it comes to building a Culture of Health, the challenges are many and the solutions seldom straightforward. But we’ve got to start somewhere, and for several Prize-winning communities, that somewhere was the annual County Health Rankings.

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Helping Mid-Sized Cities Think Big About Health

Jan 13, 2016, 2:00 PM, Posted by Donald Hinkle-Brown

A new initiative will empower mid-sized cities across the U.S. to develop strategies for increasing private and public investments to improve neighborhoods facing the biggest barriers to better health.

People running along park.

Cincinnati, Ohio. Flint, Michigan. New Orleans, Louisiana. Springfield, Massachusetts. The names of many of America’s mid-sized cities are woven into the fabric of our national consciousness.

Others are less well known: Broken Arrow, Arizona. Pasco, Washington. Taylorsville, Utah.

Famed or not, cities boasting populations of 50,000 to 400,000 are where most Americans live. Mid-sized cities can be great places for a healthy, rewarding life. Many have a strong sense of community and history, with less hustle and bustle and traffic and lower cost of living than big cities.

But even in places where quality of life is generally good, not everyone benefits equally. All together, more people live in poverty in America’s mid-sized cities than in large metro areas. Even the most storied of these cities have neighborhoods facing some of the nation’s deepest challenges. And many such cities have suffered economic depression for decades.

My organization, Reinvestment Fund, works closely with cities to use data to better understand the needs of their most at-risk neighborhoods — and then invest in new initiatives that can revitalize housing, health, transportation, education, and other assets that help communities become stronger and healthier. Now, with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, we want to help dozens of mid-sized cities think big about ways they can improve health in their most underserved neighborhoods.

To do that, we’ve launched Invest Health, which is giving 50 mid-sized cities $60,000 each to start to map out the kinds of changes they want to make.

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Closing Health Gaps: The Oklahoma Example

Dec 7, 2015, 8:00 AM, Posted by Andrea Ducas

With the right data to inform priorities, and a powerful commitment to equity, places like Tulsa, Okla., are making progress to close health gaps.

Adult and child reading a book in the classroom.

What would your ideal future look like? For me and my colleagues at the Foundation, it would be one where everyone has the opportunity to live the healthiest life they can.

An unfortunate reality in this country, however, is that while we continue to realize substantial gains in health, the things that help people become and stay healthy are not evenly distributed across states or even metropolitan areas. Access to healthy foods, opportunities for exercise, good-paying jobs, good schools, and high quality health care services may be readily available in one area, and difficult to come by or nonexistent in another just a few miles away.

Sometimes the differences are particularly stark: In some communities, two children growing up just a short subway or car ride apart could be separated by a 10-year difference in life expectancy.

So how do we square this reality with the Culture of Health we’re working hard with others to build? An important first step is recognizing those disparities and what’s driving them, and ensuring that people in communities across America have strategies – and the data – they can use to proactively close health gaps.

Let’s use Oklahoma, and within it the city of Tulsa, as an example.

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BUILDing Bridges To Better Health Through Partnerships

Dec 1, 2015, 3:30 PM, Posted by Amy Slonim

A new collaboration is helping communities forge partnerships that address the social determinants of health integral to the well-being of individuals and communities.

BUILD funding partners (from left to right): Chris Denby, The Advisory Board Company; Christopher Smith, Colorado Health Foundation; Chris Kabel, The Kresge Foundation; Amy Slonim, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; Brian Castrucci, de Beaumont Foundation; Rachel Keller Eisman, The Advisory Board Company. [Photo credit: Chris Schneider for the Colorado Health Foundation]

“This is about communities owning the solutions to improving health ... this is where the rubber meets the road." That’s how my colleague Brian Castrucci, chief program and strategy officer at the de Beaumont Foundation, described the goals of the BUILD Health Challenge during the fifteenth annual Colorado Health Symposium. Brian and I shared the symposium stage with senior officers from the four foundations and one for-profit firm that, together with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), launched the BUILD Health Challenge earlier this year.

Why do communities need to BUILD bridges to improve health? For RWJF, the BUILD Health Challenge embodies the essence of our Foundation’s focus on bridging. As my colleague Paul Kuehnert notes, health care, public health and social services have traditionally operated in siloes. By breaking down these siloes and “bridging” health care with systems that are not traditionally thought of as health-related—such as education, housing and transportation—we can help people get the services they need, when they need them.

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Community Development For and By the Community

Jul 13, 2015, 12:37 PM, Posted by Jasmine Hall Ratliff

Many families face rising rents they can’t afford. One local developer revamped an aging historic hotel into affordable housing to transform: "community development being done TO us.. to development done BY us."

Boyle Hotel before and after renovations. Before: The Boyle Hotel in disrepair. After: The Boyle Hotel-Cummings Block Apartments bring 51 new apartments to the neighborhood, all priced for people making between 30 to 50 percent of the area’s median income.

Ten years ago, Los Angeles’ Boyle Hotel was more than down on its luck. The grand old Victorian dame, built in 1889 by an Austrian immigrant and his Mexican wife, was uninhabitable. Over the years neglect had turned the stunning building with intricate period details into a ramshackle apartment house with shared bathrooms and communal kitchens. The wiring was faulty and the pipes leaked. Mold bloomed up walls. Rats scurried along the hallways. Absentee landlords racked up housing code violations, ignoring the residents’ repeated requests for basic protections of their safety and health.

Most of the tenants were older, single men: many of them mariachi musicians scraping by from gig to gig. They’d spend their weekends across the street in the plaza, as generations had going back to the 1930s, exchanging news and waiting for word of a quinceñeara or wedding where they might play. The musicians were a cultural anchor for the neighborhood, so much so that the residence was nicknamed the Mariachi Hotel.

The hotel sits at the peak of a steep hill, and if you look just beyond it you can see the full glory of downtown LA glinting in the sun. Maria Cabildo, Co-Founder and President Emeritus of the East LA Community Corporation (ELACC) and current Chief of Staff to the LA County Supervisor, saw the writing on the wall: The Boyle Hotel was bound to be snapped up by developers, and replaced by luxury rooms with a view if nobody attempted to save it. With plans for the LA Metro to extend its new light rail into the heart of the plaza, she knew that new development wouldn’t be far behind. What would the influx of business mean for the residents – mariachi musicians and families alike – who’d long called the neighborhood home?

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Design That Heals: The American Institute of Architects Rewrites the Rules

Apr 9, 2015, 9:27 AM, Posted by Sheree Crute

The South Bronx's Via Verde, an award-winning affordable housing complex designed around equity and social cohesion, shows us a new era of healthy design is here—and it's contagious.

Each winter, Raquel Lizardi and her heartiest garden club members brave the New York City cold to tend their community’s apple trees. “They are very delicate,” Lizardi says, sharing her training at GrowNYC, a nonprofit that seeks to create a healthier environment in the city, block by block. Their efforts ensure that the small orchard yields barrels of sweet Red Delicious, Gala, and slightly tart McIntosh apples for Lizardi and her neighbors in the fall.

Come spring, the group turns its attention to planting enough organic spinach, collards, kale, berries, tomatoes, other vegetables, and herbs to keep all of their tables filled with free, fresh produce.

The orchard, gardens, and grove of evergreens where Lizardi and her neighbors come together are a center of community activity at Via Verde/The Green Way, an award-winning, affordable housing development that rises above a quiet street just off bustling Third Avenue in the South Bronx. Built on a former garbage-strewn lot and Brownfield in 2012, Via Verde is now an international symbol of healthy design achievement.

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