« January 2013 Issue

A Road Less Traveled Leads to Better Health

Modernizing and building new schools in Baltimore, curbing predatory short-term lending practices in Texas, and revitalizing a Rochester, New York neighborhood that has been riddled with drug activity. These are just three of 18 innovative new Roadmaps to Health Community Grants initiatives funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) to address social and economic factors that heavily influence the health of people and the communities they live in.

Community Catalyst manages the grants, which are part the County Health Rankings & Roadmaps program, a collaboration of RWJF and the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute (UWPHI) that aims make it easier for people to be healthier in their own communities. The County Health Rankings identify specific measures that affect health, such as education, employment, social support and community safety - "social determinants of health," while the County Health Roadmaps foster solutions to address the impact of these factors on health.  In 2011, RWJF awarded its first round of the two-year Roadmaps to Health Community Grants to 12 coalitions throughout the United States. With the addition of the 18 new grantees in late 2012, the Roadmaps to Health Community Grants now support a total of 30 state and local coalitions across the country made up of leaders from government, business, education, health care, public health, and community organizations. Each coalition receives $200,000 for a total of $3.6 million for the 2012 grantees.

"Looking back on the first year of the grants, it's pretty clear that the initial group of 12 grantees has already begun to change the dialogue and influence policy proposals that have a significant impact on health," said Phillip Gonzalez, Community Catalyst's Roadmaps to Health Community Grants program director. "We are really turning a corner in the health world in terms of validating the importance of this work."

Gonzalez points to Rhode Island, where the coalition working to help youth successfully enroll in and graduate from college partnered with Governor Lincoln Chafee's office on a report that sets standards for academic achievement among students. That report's recommendations are expected to serve as the baseline for statewide standards. And a Richmond, California initiative to increase housing and employment opportunities for formerly incarcerated residents successfully persuaded the country sheriff to switch his position and allowed for reinvestment of state dollars in preventive services to lower recidivism rates. Previously, the sheriff supported directing those funds toward building more prisons.

Turning to year two of the Community Grants program, Gonzalez says the overall County Health Rankings & Roadmaps effort focused more attention on the social determinants of health and paved the way for a large, diverse group of applicants in the second round. The involvement of the United Way, which has four lead grantee organizations and others in partnership with grantees, has also elevated the program among prospective grantees.

"What's really interesting about the new grantees is they all were doing this work already - they had a policy agenda and some advocacy capacity," Gonzalez said. "However, making a link between their work and its impact on health is allowing them to leverage this national funding, which will greatly enhance their capacity and bolster their efforts. We hope to share stories of the successful work of grantees- as well as lessons learned - with a larger audience so other communities can replicate successes."

O N   T H E   W I R E

Robert Restuccia, executive director, was appointed to The State Health Care Cost Containment Commission, a project of the University of Virginia Miller Center for Public Affairs, which will develop cost effective state strategies for curbing the growth in overall healthcare expenditures. Restuccia was also named as a Practice Change Senior Leader for Aging and Health by The Atlantic Philanthropies and The Hartford Foundation. In this role, he will provide input and expertise to projects aimed at improving care for older adults.

David Jordan, Dental Access Project director, discussed dental coverage for children under the Affordable Care Act's Essential Health Benefits in a Washington Post article.

Christine Barber, senior policy analyst, was appointed as a consumer liaison representative to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners. As a consumer representative, Barber will support the interests of consumers in insurance regulatory issues.

Renée Markus Hodin, Integrated Care Advocacy Project director, is serving on the Advisory Group for the Program to Integrate Care for Dual Eligibles. Led by the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, the group aims to enhance the long-term viability and impact of high-performing integrated health plans for the dual eligible population.

Quynh Chi Nguyen, policy and program associate, recently authored a report, Moving Forward Despite Roadblocks, highlighting the continuing work of state advocates to develop Exchanges for their states.

Robert Resutccia explained the potential for the Affordable Care Act to significanlty decrease disparities in health care in a Boston Globe article.

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