RWJF Center for Health Policy: Changing the Future of Health Policy

    • February 2, 2009

Established in 2007, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Center for Health Policy at the University of New Mexico is a physical, educational and cultural home for promising health policy scholars and researchers from underrepresented groups and disadvantaged backgrounds. The Center provides training, research experience and other opportunities that enable participants to inform discussions and debates about health policy. 

“The development of health policy should be grounded in the experience of the people it represents,” said Robert O. Valdez, Ph.D., M.H.S.A., executive director of the RWJF Center for Health Policy. “Over the past two years, the Center has made considerable strides in identifying and developing scholars from the Latino and American Indian communities who are working collaboratively to shape policy solutions to our most pressing health problems. These scholars and researchers and their ideas are critical to addressing our changing health problems.”

Here are a few highlights of the Center’s work: 

  • Center for Native American Health Policy Created

As of 2009, the Center has partnered with the New Mexico Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and the University of New Mexico’s Office for Community Health to establish the Center for Native American Health Policy. This initiative is designed to increase the capacity of tribal communities to be proactive in encouraging healthy habits and to deliver quality health services by providing policy analysis, leadership training and community engagement while honoring the cultural traditions and practices valued by native people.

  • Institute for the Study of “Race” and Social Justice Established

The Institute for the Study of “Race” and Social Justice is one of several initiatives within the Center to address the pressing social and economic issues that affect the health and well-being of all Americans. The Institute seeks to develop ways of empirically measuring “race” and assessing racialization processes in order to develop strategies for reducing race-based inequality. Its co-directors place “race” in quotes to underscore its nature as a socially constructed category of social status in particular historical contexts, rather than as a reified category that is essential or fixed. The Institute will bring together scholars working in diverse fields in the health and social sciences. Visit for the complete news release on the Institute.

  • Expanding its Network of Scholars

In an effort to develop its interdisciplinary environment, the RWJF Center for Health Policy has been actively expanding its network of scholars and fellows from around the country who will serve as researchers and mentors in the program. In addition to the 22 members of the National Advisory Committee, the Center has added 47 senior fellows from the UNM faculty and 22 graduate fellows from the academic fields of anthropology, communications and journalism, economics, nursing, political science, sociology and psychology.

  • Center Experts Address the NIH Summit on the Science of Eliminating Health Disparities

Valdez and Nina Wallerstein, Ph.D., M.P.H., addressed the NIH-produced Summit on the Science of Eliminating Health Disparities, which examined the intersection of science practice and policy, held December 16 to 18, 2008. Valdez provided the opening scientific keynote address in which he discussed that “Health disparities really mean that many American Indians die young, African Americans die five years earlier than Whites, and that Latinos often die after painful and disabling disease.”  He advocated that progressive social policies can reduce these inequities and improve the health of the public. Wallerstein, director of the UNM Center for Participatory Research, Institute of Public Health, gave a presentation encouraging the utilization of Community-Based Participatory Research as a strategy in developing interventions to reduce health disparities.  Her presentation provided details from her research experiences in working with American Indian communities in New Mexico. Quick links to the videos and transcripts of the Center’s presentations are available on the Center’s Web site at

  • Center Takes Lead in  Developing  New Mexico Quality Improvement Indicators

The Center will lead the New Mexico section of the Quality Improvement Institute, a collaboration of Academy Health and the Commonwealth Fund. New Mexico is one of nine states recently selected to participate in the State Quality Improvement Institute—an intensive, competitively selected effort to help states plan and implement concrete action plans to improve health care performance across targeted quality indicators. Team members will focus on improving care based on five quality-of-care indicators from the Commonwealth Fund’s National Scorecard on U.S. Health System Performance.

At the start of 2008, Dr. Robert O. Valdez joined the University of New Mexico as executive director of the RWJF Center for Health Policy. Valdez brings to the job an impressive list of credentials from more than 25 years of health policy experience.

  • Policy Brief on Health Care Reform in New Mexico Developed

To assist the New Mexico Legislature in its efforts to reform health care financing, the Center produced a policy brief that discussed the public’s views on health care reform prior to New Mexico’s 48th Legislature, Second Session. Information from this statewide survey reported that health care was second only to education as a concern of the New Mexicans surveyed. Additionally, the brief detailed that a significant majority were willing to pay more in taxes rather than insurance premiums to obtain better health care services. Visit for the complete details of the brief.

  • Community Festivals Promote Health and Wellness

The Center partnered with the National Hispanic Cultural Center in the production of two community festivals emphasizing health and well-being. To coincide with the events, the Center published the book, Good Food, Good Health—From Field to Feast Wellness Handbook. The book seeks to provide Native American and Hispanic readers with information about preventing diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes and obesity, while encouraging readers to make healthier lifestyle choices.

  • UNM College of Nursing’s RWJF Ph.D. in Nursing With a Concentration in Health Policy Established

Established in 2008, the program aims to prepare nurses to become leaders in health policy at the local, state and national levels through research and advocacy. Students in the program participate in interdisciplinary activities with doctoral students from the social science disciplines at the Center.

The RWJF Center for Health Policy is the only health policy center dedicated to increasing the number of leaders from Latino and American Indian communities helping to shape the future of our nation’s health care and health policy. A collaboration between the University of New Mexico and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Center focuses on including the voices of Latino, American Indian and other underrepresented groups in the most pressing health policy debates today. Visit for further information.