April 4, 2013

10 ways Kaiser Permanente is advancing public health

This week, as we celebrate public health week, Kaiser Permanente is reminded that the health of the individuals for whom we care is inextricably linked to the health of the communities where they live, work and learn. As a care delivery system, Kaiser Permanente believes it’s vital to support and improve the health of the communities we serve; in fact, it’s part of our mission. We work closely with community partners on a wide range of initiatives that promote health.

From walking programs that encourage physical activity, to environmental stewardship and research on vaccine safety, Kaiser Permanente has made public health a priority. We will continue to promote public health in communities across the country.

10 ways we demonstrate our commitment to public health

Every Body Walk!

Walking to school, to transit, to lunch, after dinner or taking the dog for a walk are all simple ways to weave physical activity into everyday life. Every Body Walk! is a campaign to encourage all people to incorporate 30 minutes of walking or other brisk physical activity into their everyday routines. This year, U. S. Surgeon Regina M. Benjamin is teaming up with Everybody Walk!, powered by Kaiser Permanente, to underscore the importance of physical activity and to encourage everybody to walk.

Educational Theater Program

For more than 25 years, Kaiser Permanente’s Educational Theater Program has promoted health education through live music, comedy and drama. The Educational Theatre Program teaches, inspires and brings health education to life for children in our communities. The live theater productions are offered to schools and communities, free of charge. They cover important health topics such as healthy eating, physical activity, diversity, peer pressure, conflict management, bullying, domestic violence, dealing with grief and loss, depression, sexually transmitted diseases, literacy, and drug, alcohol and tobacco abuse. See the Educational Theater playlist on YouTube.

Environmental stewardship

Kaiser Permanente has been committed to the environment since the organization was founded in the early 1940s. The Environmental Stewardship program is anchored in promoting the health of our communities. Healthier communities with healthier people are more resilient to disease. By eliminating or mitigating environmental contributors to disease, we help people lead healthier lives.

To encourage healthy environments, we lead or support innovative efforts in the following areas:

  •   Finding safe alternatives to harmful chemicals
  •   Responding to climate change
  •   Promoting sustainable farming and food choices
  •   Reducing, re-using, and recycling to eliminate waste
  •   Conserving water

Thriving Schools

Schools give communities a focal point for coming together to generate positive change. With Thriving Schools, Kaiser Permanente is deepening our involvement in the health and wellness of schools by forming partnerships that support efforts to make good health a part of everyday life. Thriving Schools promotes workforce health and student-focused initiatives, such as  improving school lunches and increasing opportunities for physical activity.

Partners like Fire Up Your Feet are encouraging safe walking, bicycling and other physical activities to, from and at schools. Fire Up Your Feet specifically encourages families, students and schools to work together and create active lifestyles which inspire our children to be healthy and physically active.

HEAL collaboratives

Nine years ago, Kaiser Permanente created Community Health Initiatives, a comprehensive, community-based approach to health. We work with local organizations, government agencies and community residents to translate their ideas for healthier communities into visible, concrete changes — and ultimately healthier neighborhoods. At the center of Community Health Initiatives are Healthy Eating, Active Living collaboratives that mobilize a diverse array of stakeholders to support healthy eating and active living. Today there are more than 40 active HEAL collaboratives across the country that Kaiser Permanente sponsors or co-funds.

Farmers markets at medical centers

Kaiser Permanente hosts more than 50 farmers markets and farm stands at its hospitals and medical offices across the country. This movement to provide fresh produce to staff, patients and communities began in 2003 when Preston Maring, MD, founded one of the country’s first hospital-based farmers markets in front of Kaiser Permanente’s Oakland Medical Center. See Dr. Preston Maring's farmers market recipe blog and more from Dr. Preston Maring's Kitchen on YouTube.

Leading the way on dddressing the obesity epidemic

Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to fighting the obesity epidemic on all fronts. We are a sponsor of The Weight of the Nation, a national public health campaign focused on the growing problem of obesity in the United States, along with the Institute of Medicine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health and the Michael and Susan Dell Foundation. The Weight of the Nation, a four-part documentary produced by HBO, premiered in May 2012, and provided viewers with steps they can take to improve their health and the health of their families, as well as inspiration for how they can become “health activists” able to improve the health of their neighborhoods and communities.

When First Lady Michelle Obama created her “Let’s Move” campaign to combat childhood obesity in 2010, Kaiser Permanente helped to co-found the Partnership for a Healthier America to secure meaningful commitments from the private sector in support of the campaign’s goals. We are also founding members of the Convergence Partnership, which works to promote equity-focused, multi-field efforts for policy change that enables healthy people and healthy places.

Research: Vaccine safety

Kaiser Permanente is one of the nation’s largest non-university-based health research enterprises. For years, Kaiser Permanente has conducted extensive research into the safety and efficacy of vaccines and immunizations. The flu, shingles, whooping cough and HPV vaccines are all examples of areas where Kaiser Permanente has conducted research to prove safety and/or efficacy.

For example, a Kaiser Permanente study proved that the herpes zoster vaccine, also known as the shingles vaccine, is generally safe and well tolerated. The results were published online in the Journal of Internal Medicine.

A groundbreaking Kaiser Permanente study indicated that refusing immunizations increases the risk of varicella illness in children. This study was the first of its kind; it countered the misperception among vaccine-refusing parents that their children are not at risk for serious illness.

Safety net grants and fellowships

At Kaiser Permanente, we believe a transformed and strengthened health care safety net is essential to the building of healthy, empowered communities. We are actively supporting our safety net partners to meet the tough challenges of the present and to realize the opportunities that lie just around the corner.

Part of that effort is served through our grants to 381 community-based safety net partners who work on the front lines to promote healthy behaviors, improve access to primary and preventive care and reduce health disparities. These grants directly benefit providers including state and local health departments, public hospitals, federally qualified health centers and community clinics, who play a critical role in shaping public health.

For example, Kaiser Permanente has granted over 1,100 scholarships to the Institute for Healthcare Improvement Community Benefit Scholarship, made possible by an endowment established in partnership with the IHI in 2004. As a result of this partnership, hundreds of our safety-net partners have received scholarships for continuing education and quality-improvement training opportunities offered by the IHI.

Elimination of disparities

Kaiser Permanente’s commitment to total health at the community level requires that no group be left behind in the making of healthy communities. That’s why we continue to deepen our engagement in the promotion of health equity and the elimination of health care disparities while also building a more diverse workforce. Significant grants to the University of California at Berkeley, the University of California at Los Angeles, and Morehouse College have been a catalyst to increased diversity of the public health workforce. 

Among the many ways we advanced the health equity agenda in 2011 was our commitment to achieving two ambitious goals for populations that suffer numerous health disparities. These goals are to eliminate the gap in control of hypertension for African-Americans and to close the gap in the rate of colorectal cancer screening for Latinos.

Another important element of Kaiser Permanente’s effort to eliminate disparities is our work in HIV. Since the HIV epidemic emerged 30 years ago, Kaiser Permanente has treated more than 60,000 HIV patients and eliminated disparities among our current HIV population of more than 20,000 people.