Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Awards $16 Million to Health Leads to Help Health Care Providers Address Social Factors

    • April 10, 2014
A doctor writes a prescription at a clinic.

Boston–Health Leads, an organization which enables physicians and other health care providers to prescribe basic resources such as food and heat for their low-income patients, has received a $16 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). The funding, which represents the largest single investment in Health Leads to date, will enable the organization to place service desks in more health care facilities and build a culture that makes it easier for doctors and nurses to address social factors affecting their patients’ health.

There is a growing consensus that the health care system must address social factors in order to effectively meet the clinical needs of patients. In a 2011 survey of 1,000 primary care physicians by RWJF, 85 percent of respondents said that patients’ social needs are as important to address as their medical conditions. Yet 80 percent of surveyed physicians reported they did not feel confident in their ability to meet those nonclinical needs. 

“As recently as two years ago, the conversation in the health care sector was about whether the health care system should be responsible for its patients’ social needs. Now the question is not whether, but how—how do we make this a reality for our patients?” said Health Leads Co-Founder and CEO Rebecca Onie.

In the clinics where Health Leads operates, physicians and other providers can “prescribe” food, heat, and other basic resources their patients need to be healthy, alongside prescriptions for medication. Patients then take those “prescriptions” to a Health Leads Desk in the clinic waiting room, where trained Advocates work side-by-side with the patients to access community resources and public benefits.

“Health Leads provides a vital connection between providers, patients, and community resources,” said RWJF President and CEO Risa Lavizzo-Mourey, MD. "Creating this type of bridge between health and health care systems is essential to promoting a culture of health, and the strength of these connections plays a key role in influencing how long and well Americans live.”

The grant was announced on the heels of the Foundation’s January 2014 Commission to Build a Healthier America report which, among other recommendations, urged health care leaders across the United States to address nonmedical factors that affect health, and specifically to connect low-income patients to resources and services in their communities. Health Leads was both invited to serve on the Commission and put forward as an organization that is poised to tackle this great challenge. 

“At Health Leads, we’ve spent more than 18 years honing the solution to this problem," Onie added. "The grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will allow us to seize this moment of opportunity and address these questions on a much broader scale.”

The grant, the third from RWJF, represents approximately half of the philanthropic investment capital needed to launch Health Leads’ strategic plan, which aims to catalyze the health care sector to integrate patients' social resource needs into quality health care delivery. Of the $16 million commitment from RWJF, $11 million consists of grant funds and an additional $5 million will be triggered by $11 million in investments from additional current and prospective Health Leads investors.

About Health Leads

Health Leads enables physicians and other health care providers to prescribe basic resources, such as food and heat, for their low-income patientsHealth Leads envisions a health care system in which all patients’ basic resource needs are addressed as a standard part of quality care. In 2014, Health Leads will train and deploy nearly 1,000 college volunteers to connect over 14,500 low-income patients and their families to the resources they need to be healthy. Health Leads works in 20 adult, pediatric and prenatal clinics and in community health centers across the United States. For more information, visit


For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve the health and health care of all Americans. We are striving to build a national culture of health that will enable all Americans to live longer, healthier lives now and for generations to come. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter at or on Facebook at

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Melissa Blair

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (609) 627-5937

Additional Media Contact: Alexis Levy

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