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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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Is the Nation Ready for an Emergency?

Apr 25, 2016, 10:00 PM, Posted by Lori Grubstein, Paul Kuehnert

New findings aim to help local governments, public health departments and others find ways to better protect communities across the nation from the health impacts of disasters.

Paramedics load a gurney into an ambulance.

Over the last year, public health crises near and far have captured our attention. From contaminated drinking water in Michigan, Colorado and West Virginia, to concerns about the potential Zika exposure throughout much of the Southeastern states, there doesn’t seem to be a day that these public health problems aren’t in the news.

We know that where we live often determines how vulnerable we are to public health disasters. If we want everyone—regardless of what neighborhood, city, or state they live in—to have access to health and well-being, we must work together to combat threats. And we must focus our resources on those that need them most. When we work together, our communities can be resilient and ready for inevitable challenges. Safeguarding and building our health security ensures the collective health and well-being of communities across the nation.

That’s where the National Health Security Preparedness Index comes into play.

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Can a Single Question Help Families Confront Poverty?

Apr 13, 2016, 10:30 AM, Posted by David Krol

A new recommendation for pediatricians aims to help the one in five children in the United States who live in poverty.

Father holds young child at doctor's office.

During most of the week, I spend my time here at RWJF working on programs to develop leaders in health and health care and to address childhood obesity. But on Friday afternoons, I am at Eric B. Chandler Health Center in New Brunswick, N.J., seeing children and families. Eric B. Chandler is a federally qualified health center, and we serve a lot of poor, immigrant families. The children I see are more likely to have asthma or tooth decay than are children who live not too far away. They’re also more likely to be overweight, and to face adverse childhood experiences like family trauma or violence.

In some sense, this isn’t surprising. Poverty is one of the biggest health risks that children face today. One in five young people in the United States lives in poverty, and it’s present in urban, suburban, and rural communities across the country. My colleagues James Marks and Kristin Schubert recently described what lasting impact poverty can have on children.

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Disrupting the Status Quo: Seeking Innovations from Low-Resource Communities

Nov 4, 2015, 3:03 PM, Posted by Catherine Arnst

A call for proposals seeks to support evaluation of disruptive innovations that improve the health of low-resource communities—without increasing costs.

Many of the resources that influence whether or not people are healthy vary widely from one community to the next. Income, education and employment levels, access to quality, affordable health care, the availability of social services, and the cultural and physical environment—all have a significant impact on health outcomes. Poorer communities, lacking in resources may struggle to offer all the components that create a healthy environment to live, learn, work and play.

By necessity, however, these low-resource communities often find new and creative ways to do more with less to promote health.  In an effort to uncover such fresh and disruptive approaches to improving health in these communities, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) has issued a call for proposals.

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A TED Dare: Here’s Reality. Now Do Something About it.

Mar 19, 2015, 12:31 AM, Posted by Jessica Mark

A poster for TED 2015 about ensuring healthy communities.

Everyone in America deserves a chance to live the healthiest life possible. The reality is a bit more complicated: A person’s ZIP code, after all, can be as important as their genetic code when it comes to determining health. A true Culture of Health in the United States won’t be possible unless we address the inequities that allow some full access to a healthier life, while others are left to struggle.

This week, RWJF arrived at the TED conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, with a challenge for attendees: Try to understand what millions of people face in their pursuit of a healthy life. And in the spirit of the conference’s “Truth & Dare” theme, we dared the TED participants to envision a future in which everyone had access and a path to a healthier life. How might that happen? So far we’re hearing incredible ideas: let’s get to a place where we can celebrate justice rather than seek justice. Let’s make smarter choices about where we spend our health care.

We’ve enlisted five talented—brilliant, really—young filmmakers to help us. We asked each of them to tell the stories of their lives and to document the challenges that sometimes seem distant, but that are all too real for the people in their worlds. Check out their remarkable stories:

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Seizing Opportunities to Reinvent Public Health

Dec 2, 2014, 10:57 AM, Posted by Susan Dentzer

A doctor talks in a friendly manner to a disabled patient sitting in a wheelchair.

“The only thing we know about the future is that it will be different,” wrote the late management guru Peter Drucker.  To the list of society’s sectors that are struggling with that conclusion, add government-funded public health.

State and local health departments face growing challenges, including infectious disease threats such as Ebola and chikungunya; a rising burden of chronic illness; an increasingly diverse population; even the health impact of global warming. At the same time, fiscal constraints accompanying the 2007–2008 recession and its aftermath hammered local, state, and territorial health agencies, which lost nearly 30,000 jobs—6 percent to 12 percent of their total workforces—from 2008 to 2013.

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Mental Health Challenges of Hurricane Sandy’s Aftermath

Oct 29, 2014, 8:31 AM, Posted by Vicki Philips

View of damage from Hurricane Sandy in N.J. Driftwood Cabana Club, Sea Bright, N.J.

On her 90th birthday, instead of celebrating, Dottie (whose last name is withheld for privacy) lost her home in Superstorm Sandy. Two years later, she is still displaced, living in temporary rentals.

Dottie’s nephew is trying to change that. He’s been rebuilding Dottie's home. Like so many New Jersey residents, he says he’s going to keep at it until reconstruction is complete. Meanwhile, he’s getting some much needed support from groups like BrigStrong, the County Long Term Recovery Group, and the Mental Health Association in New Jersey (MHANJ).

It’s been two long years since Hurricane Sandy slammed into New Jersey on October 29, 2012. As a mental health worker, I still see the aftereffects firsthand.

For the past two years MHANJ, along with other local groups, has been on the front lines of the battle to maintain the mental health of Jersey Shore residents. Thanks to a major RWJF grant, MHANJ has been able to leave the county in a better position to deal with the next disaster:

  • We’ve given mental health first aid training to city employees who, in their daily work, encounter community members with mental health issues.
  • Through our Certified Recovery Support Practitioner program, we’ve improved our ability to reach out to the most vulnerable. Many community members certified through the program have faced mental health challenges themselves, which only increases their credibility.
  • We counseled populations with mental health issues on how to safely evacuate or shelter in place, thus ensuring that first responders will be safer in future emergencies.

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Let’s Talk About Stress

Oct 2, 2014, 9:52 AM, Posted by Michael Painter

I recently returned from the Health 2.0 conference in California, which drew 2,000 health care innovators. One of the most popular Health 2.0 sessions was called “The Unmentionables”—where speakers discussed those important things that affect our health but we are often afraid to address. I participated in this year’s session where we talked stress—what it is and how it’s making us sick.

I’m an avid cyclist. That means I train a lot. Training on a bike means purposefully and intensely stressing your body—sometimes ridiculously hard—in order to make your body stronger, fitter and faster. In that sense stress can be really good. You can’t get stronger without it.

But here’s the key: as you ratchet up that stress—the miles, the hours on the bike, the intensity—you must work just as hard on the flipside, the buffering. The more you train, the more you have to focus on the rest, the sleep, your social supports, the yoga, the nutrition—whatever it takes.

If you don’t buffer you will burn out, get injured or sick, or all of the above. Without buffers, the stress will crush you.

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I’m RWJF’s Newest Entrepreneur in Residence

Sep 23, 2014, 1:54 PM, Posted by Susannah Fox

Susannah Fox offers office hours at RWJF. Susannah Fox offers office hours at RWJF.

I am thrilled to begin my job as the entrepreneur in residence (EIR) at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

You might think that the EIR role is traditionally associated with venture capital firms, not foundations. But scratch the surface and you’ll find commonalities between the two industries. Both VCs and philanthropists have daring ambitions, place lots of bets, and hope for a big pay-off every once in a while. The difference is that a philanthropy like the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation places a priority on societal dividends, such as greater access to health care or a reduction in childhood obesity.

I also like this definition of entrepreneurship: “The pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources currently controlled.” That fits the Foundation to a T as we pursue the audacious goal of building a Culture of Health in the United States.

But how will we measure success? How will we know if our bets ever pay off, especially when we are talking about culture change? I have a story to tell that I think illustrates how a small grant can make a big difference in the world.

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Stress: Withstanding the Waves

Sep 23, 2014, 11:42 AM, Posted by Ari Kramer

As a kid, when you went to the beach, did you ever play that game where you’d wade into the ocean and test your strength against the waves? You'd stand your ground or get knocked over, and after a few minutes, you'd head back to shore.

We didn’t realize it at the time, but as we felt those waves roll by, we were getting an early glimpse of the stresses of everyday life. The difference is, as adults we can't choose to stand up to just the small ones. And for the most part, going back to shore is not an option.

In a survey RWJF conducted with the Harvard School of Public Health and NPR, about half of the public reported experiencing a major stressful event in the past year. In more than four in 10 instances, people reported events related specifically to health. Many also reported feeling a lot of stress connected with jobs and finances, family situations, and responsibility in general.

Over time, those waves can take their toll. And when they become overwhelming, they can truly wear us down, seriously affecting our both our physical and emotional health.

So how can we deal with these waves of stress? Certainly, there are proactive things we can all do help manage its effect on our lives—exercise, for example. At the same time, we’ve probably all experienced instances when we’d love nothing more than to get up early for a run or brisk walk—but don’t have the energy because stress kept us up at night. Or we may just be too tapped out from long hours, relationship struggles, caring for loved ones, etc., to spare the energy or the time.

If this sounds familiar, consider yourself human. Right next to you, whether at work, on the train, in your grocery store, is probably someone whose waves are similar to or bigger than your own. So at the same time as you try to manage your stress, ask yourself: What could be done to help others achieve a solid footing? In this ocean of ours, there’s never a shortage of opportunity to lend a helping hand.

Have an idea to help move from a culture of stress to a Culture of Health in the home, workplace or community? Please share below—we’d love to hear from you.