Statement from Richard Besser, MD, in Response to Hurricane Irma

    • September 7, 2017

The following statement from President and CEO Rich Besser of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) is in response to Hurricane Irma and its potential impact on the United States mainland and the Caribbean. For more than 40 years, RWJF has worked on the most pressing health issues facing America.

"The year 2017 keeps giving us reasons to reach out and talk to one another—about health, about resilience, about our neighbors, about our responsibilities to one other.

Right now, as so many await the storm’s coming, I urge people across the country to act. If you are in the path of the storm, listen to local officials and follow their recommendations. If they say to evacuate, you should do so. Remember to look after your neighbors who are housebound or who may need your help evacuating.

For those outside the path of the storm, now is the time to focus on your own preparedness. If the storm were coming your way, do you have a personal emergency response kit? A communications plan? Visit and follow the easy steps.

We at the Foundation are following, and will continue to follow, the path of Hurricane Irma as a second major storm tests our nation. As with Harvey, we expect a great need for immediate relief, and we will work through the CDC Foundation to determine how best to use the funds we reserve there for relief aid. We are reaching out to our colleagues in disaster response to develop our approach for effective, longer-term support for recovery.

Too many in our country have experienced sudden, unimaginable losses this year. I urge all of you who have, time and again, demonstrated your commitment to the vulnerable to redouble that effort in your words and deeds. We must carry the message that preparedness by multiple sectors will make our communities more resilient and more ready to deal with the record-breaking storms we are seeing with greater regularity.   

An important component of building a Culture of Health in America includes ensuring that, as a nation, we are prepared for health threats when disasters and other crises occur. Strengthening our health security is a responsibility shared by many stakeholders. Since 2015, we at RWJF have supported the National Health Security Preparedness Index, a project managed by the University of Kentucky that serves as a tool to help track the nation’s collective ability to keep us all safe and healthy in the face of disease outbreaks, natural disasters, and other large-scale emergencies. This is particularly important as threats to American health security increase due to newly emerging infectious diseases, growing antibiotic resistance, globalization in travel and trade, and extreme weather events.   

The Foundation’s role, historically and today, has been to help provide the long-term, unwavering support required to help people recover from tragedy over years, or even decades. Long after waters recede and residents return home, the trauma of these next days will remain a heavy burden on the collective mental health of the region. We will be there to help."

–Rich Besser, MD
  President and CEO
  Robert Wood Johnson Foundation


About the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

For more than 40 years the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation has worked to improve health and health care. We are working with others to build a national Culture of Health enabling everyone in America to live longer, healthier lives. For more information, visit Follow the Foundation on Twitter at or on Facebook at

Media Contacts

Jordan Reese

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (609) 627-6322