Now Viewing: Public and Community Health

Working Together to Take on the Opioid Crisis

Mar 29, 2017, 8:00 AM, Posted by Tim Soucy

Drug overdose deaths are fueling a dramatic increase in premature deaths nationally. This community is taking action—here’s how.

A boy standing by a sink, opening a bottle of pills.

I’ve lived in Manchester, New Hampshire, my entire life and led the health department here for more than a decade. So for me, the opioid crisis that has hit the city and surrounding region hard feels like a very personal kick to the gut. Between 2003 and 2015, overdose deaths in Manchester increased 12-fold, and until recently, our emergency responders were seeing 60 to 70 suspected overdoses each month in this city of 110,000 people.

We’ve seen more and more in the news that the drug overdose epidemic has become a national crisis, and the 2017 County Health Rankings released today reveal the extent of its terrible impact. Drug overdose deaths are now the leading cause of death in the United States among 25- to 44-year-olds, cutting short the lives of too many people and underlying a national rise in premature death rates.

Fueled largely by overdose deaths from opioid prescription drugs, heroin, and illegally manufactured fentanyl, the epidemic killed more than half a million people from 2000 to 2015.

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How Can We Design Communities Where Kids and Families Thrive?

Mar 23, 2017, 2:00 PM, Posted by Katie Wehr, Sara Cantor Aye

A funding opportunity engages teams in six selected communities to create healthier environments for kids and families.

Man and child gardening.

How can we build healthier communities where children and families thrive?

Every community would likely answer this question differently.

And these unique approaches are exactly what RWJF and Greater Good Studio hope to leverage through a project called Raising Places: Building Child-Centered Communities.

Six selected communities engaged in cross-sector collaboration will be awarded $60,000 each, along with support to take part in a process that identifies priorities, gathers diverse insights from residents and stakeholders, and tests and refines practical solutions for sustainable change. Greater Good Studio, which specializes in addressing social needs through human-centered design, will guide participating communities through this process.

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What You Need to Know About Hospital Roles in Community Investment

Mar 15, 2017, 2:00 PM, Posted by Donald F. Schwarz

Hospitals and health systems are well-positioned to invest resources in creating healthier communities—a few are already leading the way. Their valuable lessons can help others rethink the role hospitals can play in improving health beyond their walls.

Mother pushes kids on a tire swing.

Hospitals have a long tradition of serving their communities—not only by providing health care, but by hiring local workers and contractors, buying locally, and building new clinical facilities within their communities.

But you probably wouldn’t think of hospitals as financial investors in their local communities. Nor might you consider them experts in managing community revitalization efforts.

And yet, why not? After all, hospitals and health systems have unique assets that go far beyond their clinical offerings. These include deep community connections and relationships, the ability to make loans, expertise in real estate, finance, and project management, and significant property holdings. All of these can collectively be leveraged to benefit both the community at large and hospitals themselves.

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Four Ways Artists Can Help Heal Communities

Mar 2, 2017, 10:00 AM

Leaders from Louisville—one of seven winners of the 2016 Culture of Health Prize—share how artists can play a role in creating healthier, more equitable communities.

A mural on a brick wall. Smoketown Women's Mural by Steam Exchange and Smoketown community members.

Our Louisville, Kentucky, neighborhood of Smoketown sits across the street from the largest concentration of health care services in our state. Yet people here live 9 years less than the typical Louisville resident. Poverty, racism, unemployment and other social determinants of health have created this gap between residents of Smoketown and those from more affluent parts of the city.

An artist’s creativity has helped make that disparity concrete. Andrew CozzensSmoketown Life Line Project documents the impact of trauma on many aspects of people’s lives and health, as revealed through interviews with more than 20 local residents.

You see the impact in metal rods of different lengths—each representing the length of one community member’s life. Crimps in the rods marked with bands of color represent adverse experiences—violence (red), addiction (white), incarceration (black), trauma (blue)—showing how lives have, in effect, been shortened.

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The 500 Cities Project: New Data for Better Health

Feb 23, 2017, 12:00 PM, Posted by Oktawia Wojcik

For the first time ever, the CDC and CDC Foundation are providing city and neighborhood level data for 500 of the largest U.S. cities, making it possible to identify emerging health problems and effective interventions.

A man holds his child.

Old Colony YMCA in Brockton, Massachusetts recently discovered something startling: a single neighborhood more burdened by poor health such as asthma, high blood pressure, and elevated cholesterol than surrounding areas. Most surprising, however, was that this particular area had a lower prevalence of unhealthy behaviors like binge drinking than other locations within Brockton.

In the past, public health officials may have expended limited resources on the entire Brockton metropolitan area because they wouldn’t have been able to pinpoint the specific neighborhood facing the spike and determine why it was happening.

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How a Healthy Food System Can Transform Your Community

Nov 28, 2016, 9:00 AM, Posted by Dana Harvey

Mandela MarketPlace understands that community members hold the key to positive change. By lifting up a culture of community ownership, Mandela is increasing access to healthy food and sustainable business opportunities.

Oakland residents shop at the Mandela Marketplace booth

Sixteen years ago, I embarked on what I thought would be a year-long project to help the residents of West Oakland gain reliable access to affordable, nutritious food.

More than 23.5 million people live in low-income areas that are more than a mile from a supermarket, according to the USDA. That includes West Oakland, one of the city’s poorest areas. The community has a high rate of crime, pollution and unemployment—along with dozens of liquor stores and fast food outlets. Health outcomes are dismal; residents are two times more likely to be born at a low birth weight and 2.5 times more likely to die of stroke than residents in the nearby affluent area of Oakland Hills.

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Lessons from Culture of Health Prize Winners in the Northeast

Oct 26, 2016, 4:00 PM, Posted by Amy Slonim

Past prize-winners recently convened to discuss their experiences. They share powerful lessons on how they are improving health and health equity within their communities.  

Community members shake hands and speak with a police officer.

We started the day with an icebreaker.

“I harness the collective power of leaders, partners, and community members,” read the moderator.

“That’s me!” shouted the group of several dozen people gathered on the campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn., for a reunion of sorts. They came from diverse sectors and systems—from health care, education, nonprofits and government agencies—and their communities all had this in common: They are past winners of the RWJF Culture of Health Prize.

Each year, RWJF honors and elevates U.S. communities that are making great strides in their journey to better health and well-being. So far, 27 places—cities, counties, tribes, and more—across the country have claimed the distinction of receiving the Prize.

This year, communities across the United States have until November 3rd to apply for the Prize. Winners will receive up to $25,000 and have their stories spread broadly to inspire others toward locally-driven change.

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What I Learned from Scaling Playworks into a National Movement

Aug 30, 2016, 9:28 AM, Posted by Jill Vialet

Jill Vialet’s idea to transform the school day through the power of play started with just two schools and now serves more than 1,300 nationwide. The CEO and founder of Playworks shares the tough lessons she learned about scale during her journey.

A young girl cleans up equipment after recess.

I was visiting an elementary school back in 1996 when the frazzled principal desperately turned to me and asked if I could “do something” about what was happening at recess. Just moments before I arrived she had reprimanded three fifth grade boys in her office for fighting on the playground. It clearly wasn’t the first time they had been there for the same offense.

I was originally there to discuss an artist residency program for a children’s art museum I was running in Oakland, California. Instead, I listened to the principal lament how recess had become the most dreaded part of the school day. Kids were getting into trouble, getting hurt, and feeling left out. As far as this principal was concerned, the real tragedy was the distraction from teaching and learning, something she just couldn’t accept.

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What’s the Formula for Community Resilience?

Aug 1, 2016, 9:22 AM, Posted by Tracy Costigan

A $10 million grant opportunity, designed to benefit the Gulf of Mexico region, will advance the science and practice of fostering healthy communities that can prepare for, withstand and recover from adverse events—and even thrive afterwards.

A man fishes at dawn.

Few of us have forgotten the searing images of the impact of Hurricane Katrina on the Gulf Coast, especially how the great American City of New Orleans was left in shambles—a testament to longstanding social and economic problems that preceded the storm and a nation that was unprepared after it occurred.

In the decade that followed Katrina—one that included the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history—recovery across the region has varied, but there have been several success stories. For example, New Orleans, that soulful town, overhauled its health and public health systems, improved access to nutritious food and fitness activities, and put new emphasis on issues of equity and poverty. The work is far from done, but the transformation was sufficient to earn a Culture of Health Prize from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) in 2013.

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How to Help Students by Helping Their Parents

Jul 27, 2016, 12:00 PM, Posted by Abbey Cofsky, Kristin Schubert

Communities share the specific steps they took to maximize academic success by supporting parents and families.

Teacher holds a student during class.

We’re all well aware that education leads to better jobs and higher income. Just as important, research also links education to reduced risk of illness, increased vitality, longevity and academic success that extends to future generations.

That’s why the situation for schools in Lawrence, Mass., was particularly concerning back in 2010. At the time, more than one out of every four Lawrence kids dropped out of high school. This led the Massachusetts Department of Education to put Lawrence’s schools into receivership by 2012, placing them under new management to safeguard state assets. The state-appointed “receiver,” was granted authority to develop an intervention plan to overhaul the schools through steps you might expect such as expanding the school day and replacing half the districts’ principals.

But the district also took one critical step by acknowledging that a family’s financial stability strongly influences how well children do in school—and whether they drop out.

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