The blog of Burness Communications

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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Scientists Make iPhone into Low-cost Microscope to Diagnose Intestinal Worm Infections in African Children

Here’s the scenario: you’re a scientist working in a remote village in Tanzania treating a child with severe anemia and malnutrition; you suspect intestinal worms. If you could examine a stool sample, you might be able to identify hookworms or perhaps roundworms, quickly treat the child with the appropriate medication, and avoid long-term consequences of these parasites—delays in physical and mental development. But you don’t have a light microscope—it’s too expensive—and even if you did, you don’t have reliable electricity to make it work. But here’s what you do have: an iPhone, a cheap lens, some double-sided tape and a flashlight. What do you do?

Dr. Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital has shown that you can turn these cheap, everyday items into a field microscope that successfully detects intestinal worms, also known as soil-transmitted helminths—which infect 2 billion people around the world, particularly in remote, impoverished regions of the developing world. The work of Dr. Bogoch and his colleagues was published recently in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

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Changing the Way Doctors Are Paid

We’ve all heard about the problem of rising health care costs.  The United States spends nearly three trillion dollars a year on health care – far more than any other developed country – yet lags on many measures of health outcomes and quality. As a proportion of the federal budget, the cost of Medicare has risen from 3.5 percent in 1975 to more than 15 percent in 2010. By 2020, Medicare is projected to consume 17 percent of the U.S. budget. So what can be done about it?

According to a report from the National Commission on Physician Payment Reform, a Burness client, changing the way doctors get paid is the first step to fixing our health care system. The report, released on March 4th, details 12 sweeping recommendations aimed at reining in health spending and improving quality of care. Among them, the Commission urges lawmakers, health providers and insurers to move away from a fee-for-service payment system to a blended payment model within five years.

The 14-member Commission was formed by the Society of General Internal Medicine and is led by former Senator Majority leader Bill Frist, M.D., and former Robert Wood Johnson Foundation president Steven Schroeder, M.D.  In a joint Politico op-ed, Frist and Schroeder explain why fee-for-service is so problematic: “We pay physicians according to the number of services they provide. The skewed financial incentives inherent in a fee-for-service model promote fragmented care and encourage doctors to provide more — and more costly — care, regardless as to whether those services improve the health of patients.”

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Burness Communications Announced as New Member of Community Profits Montgomery

Initiative Recognizes Businesses Committed to Giving at Least Two Percent of
Operating Income Back to Community. 

Bethesda, MD (February 27, 2013) — Burness Communications today announced its acceptance into Community Profits Montgomery, a program that promotes companies that give back to the community and inspire others to do the same.

The initiative, spearheaded by Bethesda Magazine and C. Fox Communications, in collaboration with the Community Foundation for Montgomery County, stems from a simple idea: to create a platform that recognizes local businesses for giving back to the community, inspiring them to continue their good work -- and encourage others to do the same.

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Andy Burness: “We all have THAT teacher who shaped our purpose as a human being. Dr. Cook is mine”

On February 19, 2013, Andy Burness offered the following words at the Samuel Dubois Cook Society Awards Dinner in Durham, N.C. Dr. Cook, a close personal friend of Dr. Martin Luther King’s, was the first African American professor at Duke University and has the distinction of being the first African American to hold a tenured faculty appointment at any predominantly white college or university in the South. He has also had a tremendous impact on Andy’s life as a professor, mentor, and friend.

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China leads world’s embrace of inexpensive approach to clean water

Images of China’s smog-choked capital circulated widely this winter, underlining one of the developing country’s tallest orders: learning how to strike a balance between economic growth and environmental stewardship.

But a report released in January by Forest Trends—a Burness client—revealed that China, along with a handful of nations across the globe, is making strides in one key area of environmental protection.

Charting New Waters: State of Watershed Payments 2012 tallies an uptick in investments by governments, NGOS and private companies that pay communities to shelter or clean up water supplies.  The study found that more than $8 billion was invested in these projects—a $2 billion increase from the study’s findings in 2008.

These innovative programs are often chosen in lieu of “gray” (concrete) infrastructure like water treatment plants.

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What Works for America’s Communities?


The latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau reveals that poverty levels in the U.S. are stuck at historically high levels.  Though the sluggish economy is partly to blame, the nature of poverty is also changing – it is increasingly suburban; it is deeper than it was just a decade ago (meaning that more individuals are living in families with incomes under half the poverty line); and the prevalence of high-poverty areas is growing across the country.

These new realities spurred the Low Income Investment Fund (LIIF, a Burness client) and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco to publish Investing in What Works for America’s Communities.  The book is a compilation of 28 essays written by a wide array of leaders, including community and economic development experts, practitioners, researchers, philanthropists and public policymakers. They examine what we can learn from the history of community development and provide dozens of innovative ideas for bringing opportunities to America’s struggling communities.

These ideas were showcased on December 4 when LIIF, the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco and the Citi Foundationhosted a discussion in Washington, DC for the public launch of Investing in What Works.

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