Thursday, January 26, 2017

High School Health Activist Has Sights Set on Health Career

Aracely Ortiz, 2nd from left, presenting Health Academy's Cafeteria Makeover Project during the 
Youth Summit hosted by LACDPH, April 2015
Aracely Ortiz first heard about the Health Academy during a recruitment presentation in class when she was in 9th grade. It was also Health Academy’s first year at Thomas Jefferson Senior High. “I wasn’t really involved in anything else at that time,” she explains, “but Health Academy just sounded different from all the other groups I’d heard about, so I decided to go for it.”
She went on to submit an application and sat through an interview, and in the spring semester of 2014, Aracely became a member, or “youth leader,” of the brand-new Health Academy program. After attending a few meetings and experiencing first-hand what the program was about, she was hooked. “At first I was debating whether to continue or not, but everyone in the program was so nice and supportive. It felt like a good place to be.”

Through Health Academy, Aracely learned some unexpected things about her community. She learned how her neighborhood is often considered a food desert or food swamp because of the prevalence of fast food restaurants and liquor stores compared to full-service grocery stores that sell fresh fruits and vegetables. While discussing food swamps, she said, “it was definitely eye-opening. I thought that we already had a lot of things in our community, but now I’ve realized that we don’t have as much as we should.”

Since realizing this, Aracely has actively worked to improve access to healthy food for her school and her community. She often shares information she learns through Health Academy with her family and friends. “I always show my parents the healthy food recipes I get from Health Academy, and we’ve started making them at home… I’ve also taught my parents how to read nutrition labels, and it’s something we look at now when we shop for food”.

Aracely has also taken on leadership roles in several Health Academy initiatives, such as implementing Smarter Lunchroom strategies in the school cafeteria and the Mini Farm Stand project. Throughout her participation, Aracely has been an important voice for her fellow students and community members. One moment she feels particularly proud of was attending a youth summit hosted by the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health during her sophomore year, where she presented her team’s Cafeteria Makeover project to other high school students from across the County. “We made changes in the cafeteria that year that decreased the wait times for getting lunch and also got students more excited about the cafeteria food. More students started participating in the school lunch program, and I like to think our project helped… I felt really proud of how we presented our project and I think we were able to give other schools some good ideas.”

Her experience with Health Academy encouraged Aracely to be even more involved in school. Aside from Health Academy, she is now also an active member of her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance chapter, Student Leadership and ROTC. Now a senior, Aracely is in her fourth and final year in Health Academy, where her role has expanded to include Youth Social Media Manager. In this position, she will work with other Health Academy students to create and post content for the NHF Health Academy Instagram page. Aracely is also getting ready for college next year and has already received acceptance letters from California State University, Dominguez Hills and Loyola Marymount University. She aspires to become a nurse someday, and credits her involvement in Health Academy for inspiring her interest in the health field. 

Aracely is one of over a hundred students that has participated in Health Academy which is going into its fourth year through funding from the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Recently, National Health Foundation received another Department of Public Health grant, the Champions for Change – Healthy Communities Initiative, to expand Health Academy to another Los Angeles high school; allowing NHF’s Health Academy and its proven benefits to reach many more students like Aracely, their families and the community.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Two Men, Two Paths

Arnie and Mat arrived at National Health Foundation’s (NHF) Pathway Recuperative Care from partner hospitals in early December 2016. Both were in need of additional medical supervision and both were homeless. The similarities in their cases ended there. The task of delivering essential care and helping the two men find stable housing required an individualized plan that took into account their stories, their needs and their goals.

Arnie's multiple chronic medical conditions require monitoring and medication, both of which are challenging to maintain on a modest monthly social security check. He found himself unable to pay for rent and his condition deteriorated until he needed to be hospitalized. Upon discharge from the hospital he was homeless and in need of follow-up care. At Pathway Recuperative Care, Arnie worked closely with staff members on his care plan. This plan looks at the patient’s needs both medically and with respect to housing. Staff then began connecting Arnie to services available to him via the Department of Mental Health as well as medical services to ensure continuous improvement on both fronts. With Arnie’s motivation and Pathway staff persistence, he was able to secure stable housing that will ensure a sustained return to health.

For Mat, the struggle was no less intense. He came to Pathway Recuperative Care from a partner hospital with no money, no identification and no home. Struggling to recover from substance abuse, the 20-year-old had spent years in the foster care system and found emancipation to be more difficult than he had the skills to cope with. Upon arriving at Pathway Recuperative Care, the staff worked with Mat to reapply for General Relief, obtain a replacement Electronic Benefit Transfer card and kept him proactive in attending the necessary medical and social services appointments that would ensure his return to health. The last piece of Mat’s health plan was to secure stable housing.  Mat’s stable housing is such that he will receive the support he needs to maintain his health while acquiring the skills he needs to navigate adulthood.

For Pathway Recuperative Care staff, each patient has a vastly different set of circumstances that has led to the decline in their health and the loss of their home. “Each person who comes to Pathway is seen as an individual with distinct health needs. We take the time to understand their history and work with them to devise a plan that matches their needs and capacity for managing their progress to sustained health," explained Kelly Bruno, MSW, President/CEO National Health Foundation. For Arnie and Mat, the prospect of an end to homelessness was welcomed with large grins and a sense of accomplishment. “We find it impossible to speak about health without addressing the most fundamental social determinant of health: housing. Without a home, there can be no health,” asserts Bruno. With secure and supportive homes both Arnie and Mat can now turn their attention and energy towards their healing and health.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

National Health Foundation Awarded Nearly $1 Million to Address High Obesity Rates in Historic South Central Los Angeles

National Health Foundation (NHF) was awarded $880,000 from the Los Angeles CountyDepartment of Public Health with funding from the California Department of Public Health and the United States Department of Agriculture. The grant will support the Champions for Change - Healthy Communities Initiative, which aims to reduce the prevalence of obesity among low-income Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program-Education eligible populations by providing nutrition education, physical activity promotion, and working to create healthier environments for low-income individuals and families where they live, learn, work, play, pray, and shop.

Key efforts under the initiative include teaching fundamental skills such as cooking, reading food labels, shopping on a budget, growing fruits and vegetables, and introducing low-cost and fun ways to be physically active. In addition, champions in communities throughout the County will be identified to help improve access to healthier foods and increase opportunities to be physical active in a variety of settings, including early childcare centers, schools, faith-based organizations, corner stores, parks, worksites, and cities.   

“National Health Foundation is pleased to be a part of this County-wide initiative, as we are committed to improving underserved communities by taking actions on the social determinants of health,” explained Kelly Bruno, MSW, President/CEO, National Health Foundation. “We are working toward making notable changes in the community by working with students in schools, local corner stores and community partners to make healthier foods more affordable and available as well as identify ways to integrate physical activity into the day to improve the overall health for families in South Central LA.” 

According to the LA County: A Cities andCommunities Health Report, obesity-related chronic illnesses continue to rank among the top ten leading causes of premature death, including heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. While the obesity epidemic continues to impact virtually all population groups, roughly 29% of children and 37% of adults in South Central LA are obese, which is significantly higher than the rest of Los Angeles County. LA County black and Latino resident’s fair worse when it comes to obesity and obesity-related illnesses compared to whites and Asians. Thirty-two percent of Latinos and thirty one percent of blacks are obese in LA County, compared to 18% of whites and 8% of Asians. When it comes to South Central Los Angeles black and Latino residents, who make up 10% and 87% of the population respectively, the situation is no different. 

Reducing obesity is a priority of Public Health and a key objective of the Champions for Change - Healthy Communities Initiative,” said Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, Interim Health Officer of Los Angeles County. “By investing in our communities and the people that we serve, we are hopeful that we can make impactful, long-lasting changes for better health outcomes.”