The blog of Burness Communications

Suburban poverty: A phenomenon that’s more common than you might think

My wife and I recently moved to one of the country’s wealthiest suburban areas – Montgomery County.  For us, along with many Americans, a move to the suburbs symbolized the promise of better schools and safer neighborhoods.  But the offer of “a better life in the suburbs” is quickly evaporating for many people who now live here.  Despite its reputation, a growing number of people who reside in this wealthy county just 20 miles outside the nation’s capital are poor and struggling.  In fact, no other county in the Washington D.C. region, including the District of Columbia, has experienced increases in poverty of the same magnitude as Montgomery County.    

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Signs of Progress Toward Reversing the Childhood Obesity Epidemic

Last December, we noted that some cities and states have begun to measure declines in their childhood obesity rates. As The New York Times put it then, these declines “offer the first indication that the obesity epidemic, one of the nation’s most intractable health problems, may actually be reversing course.”

On July 9, more than 250 people gathered in the gym of the National Capital Y in Washington, D.C., to hear from leaders representing four states and five cities or counties recording declines in their childhood obesity rates.

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Introducing Conversations in Development

BurnessGlobal introduces a new monthly series called Conversations in Development to feature interviews with fascinating people we have known or worked with over our 20+ years in the development space. Through these interviews, we’ll share fresh perspectives on a variety of issues, from agricultural development to global health to forestry, and hopefully spark a dialogue about the top development priorities in the world today.

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A Model for Medical Education & Care Management Expands

Ten years ago, an estimated 28,000 men and women were infected with hepatitis C throughout the state of New Mexico, but only 1,600 were getting treatment. Statewide, only two clinics, in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, had the expertise to treat patients with hepatitis C. Dr. Sanjeev Arora, a liver disease specialist at the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center (UNMHSC) in Albuquerque, found this gap intolerable, especially since the knowledge to treat Hepatitis C existed. There was no reason patients had to be going months, sometimes years, without seeing a specialist to care for their condition.

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How Healthy Is Northern Virginia?

A new report from the Northern Virginia Health Foundation (a Burness client) tells us that residents of Northern Virginia may not be as healthy as you think.  For example:

  • Over one million adult residents are obese or overweight;
  • Almost one in four adults and one in five children are going without dental care;
  • One in four youth show early warning signs of depression; and
  • One in five adults – more than 340,000 people – are at risk for binge drinking.

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Dialing back on the drivers of global disease outbreaks: A look inside the ‘black box’

A new report on the ‘causes of causes’ of H7N9 and other diseases that are emerging in animals and jumping species—into people

This blog was originally posted to the ILRI News Blog.

The deadly H7N9 bird flu virus in China and the spread of a SARS-like coronavirus in the Middle East continue to make headlines. H7N9 has killed 35 people  in China and 20 have lost their lives to the novel coronavirus—which has spread from Saudi Arabia to the UK, France and Germany.

Two opinion editorials in the New York Times this month, The next contagion: Closer than you think and The next pandemic: Not if, but when, correctly warn us about the potential global spread of these killer diseases. They call for more awareness of the dangers of zoonotic (animal-to-people) diseases, faster identification of animal sources of the pathogens and better vaccines to protect us against them. All of those are indeed needed.

But like much of the mainstream press, neither article mentions the root cause of these emerging infectious diseases, that is, the conditions that make zoonoses likely to arise in the first place and then help turn them into lethal pandemics.

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New Video: Drug-Resistant “Superbug” Bacteria and What We Can Do About Them

Burness Communications has helped created a new three-minute animated video with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and RWJF grantee Extending the Cure which tells the story of how antibiotic-resistant “superbug” bacteria have become a serious public health threat that affects everyone. 

 Drug-resistant superbugs infect more than two million people in healthcare facilities and contribute to over 99,000 deaths each year in the U.S. alone -- more than AIDS, traffic accidents, or the flu, put together.  But people don’t realize how their own behavior contributes to the problem. 

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Mental Health & a Promising Model for Early Intervention

By Tyler Weingart and Kathy Orellana

Under our current health care system, we wait until young people with severe mental illness are very sick before treating them. Sparked by the tragedies of Newtown and elsewhere, mental health advocates and policymakers have a renewed sense of urgency to repair the broken mental health system so those with severe mental illness can get the help they need as early as possible. The Early Detection and Intervention for the Prevention of Psychosis Program (EDIPPP) –a grantee of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s Vulnerable Populations Portfolio supported by Burness Communications – is a promising approach to treat mental illness at its earliest stages.  Launched in 2006 with support from the Foundation, EDIPPP has been collecting evidence from six diverse sites around the country on the effects of its early identification and treatment model, which focuses heavily on proactive outreach from people in the community.

 The goal of the model, which is based on a program started at Maine Medical Center, is to educate families and individuals who routinely interact with at-risk youth (teachers, coaches, members of the clergy, school nurses) about the key signs to look for in young people, to help identify and prevent psychosis before it starts. The logic of the model is simple: detect and treat a mental illness before it is too late.

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Find us at NTC!

Starting this Thursday, the Nonprofit Technology Network’s (NTEN) annual conference kicks off in snowy Minneapolis. Leaving behind the cherry blossoms, Alex Field and Marianna Sachse from our BurnessDigital team will be on the ground with more than 1,500 fellow advocates to uncover the best ideas for using technology to advance the work of nonprofits.

We are looking forward to hearing new approaches, joining lively discussions, and learning from the fantastic NTEN community over the next three days.

If you or a colleague will be there too, we’d love to meet up and say hello. Send us an email at and we’ll coordinate for coffee or a quick meet.

If you will not be there, or you decided to pass on an April blizzard, do not despair! You can follow us on Twitter for reports on what we are learning.

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America’s dental dilemma: Are there enough dentists to care for everyone?

Note:  Linda Loranger, Senior Vice President and Director, Health Policy Team, leads our oral health work here at Burness Communications.  This piece highlights serious oral health access issues in the state of Washington, but it is an issue that affects the entire country.  Close to 50 million people live in areas where they can’t get dental care and millions more cannot afford it. 

Last month, a prominent annual assessment of health showed just how starkly different life can be county to county, state to state.  It demonstrated that your ZIP code can dictate how long and how well you live. But it also shattered the argument that a dental shortage doesn’t exist.

For the first time ever, the assessment, known as the County Health Rankings and produced annually by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (a Burness client), included access to dental care as one of the key measures affecting health in a county.  Oral health is critical to overall health yet thousands of people can’t get it.  The Rankings show just how dramatic the disparities are when it comes to getting dental care.

In Washington state, in Skamania County, the ratio of Washington residents to dentists is 11,122 to 1.  Across the state, in Whitman County, it is 3,626 to 1.  For the lucky residents of King County, the ratio is 1,063 residents to every dentist.  

Keep in mind that the Rankings, which are nationwide, assess the national benchmark at a ratio of 1,500 patients to one dentist.  In other words, if all counties were to strive for a healthy ratio of dentists, this is the goal.  Skamania County has a long way to go.

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