Public Health in Action – Acceptable Risk

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Have you ever gone to work knowing you weren’t feeling too great or knew you were sick?  I definitely remember at least a handful of times when I’ve gone to work and potentially exposed co-workers to my cold or flu.  And I have no doubts that a majority of us have done the same.

But let’s say you worked in a more public setting, like a hospital or restaurant, where illness could spread to a larger population.  Would that influence the decision to stay home?  At least half of workers in more public settings show up to work sick, according to a recent NPR article.  Participants of the poll listed a variety of reasons for showing up to work sick, including a lack of paid time off or concerns over job security.  But another reason was inadequate back-up staff.  Sick employees didn’t want to overburden their co-workers in their absence.

Now imagine an opposite scenario where employees are at higher risk for illness or injury while at work; where exposure to toxic chemicals is part of the job.  Nail salon workers fall into this group and are routinely exposed to such chemicals, resulting in reproductive and developmental issues or cancer.  Does an increased risk to health issues have to be a necessity for nail salon workers?  Fortunately, not.  The California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative (CaHNSC) was established in 2005 to improve the health, safety and rights of this workforce.  My interview with Catherine Porter, policy director of the Collaborative, below describes their impact on the industry in California.


Me: How did you end up doing the work that you’re currently doing?  Describe your journey to your current role with the CA Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative – why is CaHNSC important to you? Why is it important to customers?

Catherine Porter: I have a great passion for workers’, particularly women workers’, rights and health.  As an employment rights attorney, I represented clients in gender and race discrimination claims and also represented teachers in arbitration and layoff hearings. After a breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 40, I decided to work on a policy level to have a greater impact on larger social, legal, and environmental issues such as eliminating the epidemic of cancer and other chronic diseases linked to toxic chemical exposures. I worked in an organization that focused on women with cancer and the environmental links to the disease; at another organization I focused on occupational safety and health, including workplace chemical exposures. I started with the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative (Collaborative or CaHNSC) in 2008 and now serve as its policy director.  Working with the Collaborative represents a natural progression of policy issues for me because we focus on environmental health and safety rights for both workers and women.

The Collaborative is having a positive impact on a vulnerable population of low-wage women workers. On the policy front, we are working to reduce exposures to toxic chemicals that are pervasive in nail salons. We also provide information regarding labor law rights and obligations, and work to ensure this important information is available and accessible to the nail salon community.  In California, manicurists are predominately Vietnamese immigrant women of reproductive age. Language can be a barrier to understanding occupational safety and health and labor rights.  The Collaborative has sponsored successful legislation that requires California state agencies to provide improved language access for the nail salon and other immigrant communities in California.

The Collaborative has built relationships in the nail salon community by providing trainings on healthier and more fair ways to do business.   Our successful advocacy for Healthy Nail Salon Recognition Programs (HNSRPs are now operational in four counties and one city) contribute to a safer and more enjoyable experience for nail salon customers.  These local programs acknowledge and support nail salons that use less toxic products and practices in their shops.

For example, nail salons must use products that do not contain the “Toxic Trio” of dibutyl phthalate, toluene, and formaldehyde, all known to cause reproductive and developmental harm or cancer.  Salons also must improve their ventilation and participate in trainings about how to avoid the most toxic exposures. According to our survey data, most salon owners that participate in the program say that they and their workers feel healthier and that they have experienced an increase in customers.

Me: The CA HNSC is involved with advocacy efforts – what legislation is realistic in the next few years and what would your ideal legislation look like?

CP: To promote the spread of Healthy Nail Salon Recognition Programs (HNSRPs) across California and beyond the current five jurisdictions, the CaHNSC and Asian Health Services of Oakland (AHS) are currently sponsoring AB 2125 (David Chiu) which requires a state agency to inform local county and city governments across California about HNSRP guidelines, and to conduct activities to improve consumer awareness of these local programs.  AB 2125 passed the state Assembly and two Senate policy committees with overwhelming support. It currently awaits consideration in the Senate appropriations committee. One reason AB 2125 has received such large bipartisan support is that it involves an incentive approach to policy change; it calls for rewarding good behavior as opposed to penalizing bad behavior.

However, frequently, a legal prohibition or requirement is necessary and most effective to change behavior, but it is much more difficult to get the necessary support from both sides of the aisle in Sacramento for this kind of policy.

For example, cosmetics are woefully under-regulated as there is no requirement for cosmetic products to undergo pre-market safety testing.  Furthermore, manufacturers are not required to list ingredients on the labels of professional cosmetics. And the chemical components of the ingredient known as “fragrance” do not have to be disclosed to consumers.

Ideally, filling these three gaps in cosmetics policy would be a good starting point for some meaningful legislation.  In fact, such a measure was introduced in Washington, D.C. by U.S. House Representative Jan Schakowsky (D – 9th).  But proposals like this are unlikely to receive enough support given the current political makeup of the Congress and the ongoing influence of the chemical and personal care products industries.

From a wider lens view, other legislation that would positively impact nail salon and other low income women workers include establishing a single payer health system; overturning Citizens United; and a state measure reining in the cost of housing including rental rates.

Me: What inspires you on a daily basis, especially when things get hard?

CP: We have strived to bring the voices of local Vietnamese nail salon workers to policy debates.  When I hear their powerful messages as they enthusiastically advocate for safety and health in the workplace, I am reminded of why my Collaborative colleagues and I do this work. This year, during the course of our campaign for AB 2125, many nail salon colleagues and Collaborative member organizations representing the local Vietnamese community participated in lobby days and hearings in Sacramento.   It is deeply satisfying to see a largely immigrant community become engaged in the political life of America as a result of the Collaborative’s Leadership Trainings and other education and outreach efforts.

Me: In your opinion, how effective are community outreach efforts like the Healthy Nail, Beauty Salon and Barbershop programs compared to other forms of health education (e.g. presentations, one-on-one, small group, etc.)?  Specifically – reaching target audiences where they spend recreational time (in a nail salon or barbershop).

CP: The most effective outreach efforts rest on relationship-building to develop trust and common ground among parties.  Our work with the nail salon community and successful implementation of Healthy Nail Salon Recognition Programs (HNSRPs) involve ever stronger ties with nail salon workers and owners.  Outreach workers are generally native Vietnamese speakers and understand how to bridge cultural differences.  They make in-person visits to salons to get to know the individual workers and owners. Over time, they begin to tell salon owners and technicians about the Collaborative’s work and how to make nail salons healthier for themselves and their customers.  Salon workers and owners will be invited to trainings on safety, health, and labor law as well as community gatherings sponsored by the Collaborative. County or city staff responsible for HNSRP implementation also conduct on-site trainings at the salons and convene small group informational meetings at the Collaborative offices. All written materials and spoken word are offered in Vietnamese and English.  We also make sure we have fun – community members and Collaborative staff come together regularly to share food and stories about work life in nail salons.

Me:  What are the current needs in the Bay Area relate to social determinants of health (i.e. SES, poverty, access to care, transportation, safety, etc.)?  Ties to nail salon workers and their need to work at potentially unhealthy workplaces.

CP:  The cost of housing and the need for more affordable housing are critical social or physical determinants of health in the San Francisco Bay Area. Two of the ten most expensive residential rental markets are cities in the San Francisco Bay Area—San Francisco and San Jose.  The City and County of San Francisco (64%) and Alameda County (60.9%) rank the highest and 5th highest respectively when it comes to fair market rent as a percentage of single mothers’ median income.

Some of the highest rates of women working in low-wage jobs are in San Francisco Bay Area counties.  Almost 34% of women in Santa Clara County, almost 27% in Contra Costa County, and approximately 25% in Alameda County, work in low-wage jobs.

This underscores the importance of increased consumer awareness of working conditions in this beauty services industry and the need for nail salon workers and owners to receive fair payment from their customers for services like manicures and pedicures.  AB 2125, which would mandate a statewide consumer awareness program, would be an important contribution toward a generally more sustainable nail salon industry.


Public Health in Action – Not a Zero Sum Game



With the solstice behind us and the last few days of June ahead, summer is here.  And the reminders are constant: warmer weather, relaxed dress codes and recurring vacation ads on television.  Along with the official start of summer, the month marks an important awareness period for men’s health.  Events and activities centered to encourage and engage men all over the world to be more proactively engaged in their own health and well-being, Men’s Health Month has served as an annual reminder to everyone that men aren’t invincible.  Men, in fact, succumb to disease and premature death at greater rates and earlier ages than their female counterparts.

Peter Baker, director of the Global Action on Men’s Health, wasn’t aware enough to engage in such reminders.  In my interview with him below, Peter shares his personal wake-up call to health and how that catalyzed his passion into the international men’s health movement.


Me: How did you end up doing the work that you’re currently doing?  Describe your journey to your current role as the Director of Global Action on Men’s Health.  Describe why you’re passionate about making men healthy and why others should care about the health disparities between genders.

Peter Baker: I’ve been active in men’s health for about 20 years and involved in broader men’s issues for over 30. I came to this field through my interest in feminism and an exploration of my own masculinity through men’s groups and writing, including for a small but influential anti-sexist UK men’s magazine called Achilles Heel. I was for a time also actively involved as a volunteer in projects which aimed to end men’s violence against women.

I became a freelance journalist and writer in 1990 and contributed articles about men’s issues to a wide range of well-known UK newspapers and magazines including Cosmopolitan, GQ, The Guardian and The Independent. My involvement in men’s health specifically became much more significant when I was invited to become the health editor for a men’s magazine, Maxim, in 1995. In 1996, my book (co-written with Mick Cooper) The MANual: The complete man’s guide to life was published. This was a self-help guide for men interested in reflecting on and changing their experience of work, sex, relationships and parenting as well as health. My second book, Real Health for Men (published in 1992), focused specifically on health and well-being and the practical steps men can take to add years to their life as well as life to their years.

My interest in men’s health also stemmed from personal experience of some chronic health problems when I was in my 30s. I developed often debilitating back pain and, probably as a result of drugs taken for that, a duodenal ulcer. I’d never taken much care of my health before and, in my late teens and 20s, drank too much alcohol, eaten poorly, done little exercise and steadily put on weight. Alongside the drugs and the physiotherapy for my ulcer and back, I decided to improve my diet, cut out alcohol and start exercising. When my marriage broke down in the early 1990s, I also started psychotherapy which helped me to think about my mental health and wellbeing in a new way.

My men’s health journalism brought me into contact with men’s health advocates and specifically the Men’s Health Forum, an organization that works to improve men’s health in England and Wales. When the coordinator left in 1999, I was invited to take over on a part –time, temporary basis. In 2000, I became the Forum’s first full-time Chief Executive and I stayed for another 12 years. During that time, I helped to develop the Forum into a national charity, launched Men’s Health Week in the UK in 2002, and push men’s health issues onto the agendas of national government and the health services.

I left the Men’s Health Forum in 2012 in large part so I could focus more on the men’s health issues that most interested me without the burden of organizational management, a major aspect of my job that I’d always seen as a necessary evil. As a self-employed consultant in men’s health, I’m now able to focus much more on the issues that really interest me. I’ve mainly been working with the European Men’s Health Forum on improving men’s use of primary care services, developing a UK campaign (HPV Action) that makes the case for boys to be included alongside girls in the national HPV vaccination programme, and establishing Global Action on Men’s Health (GAMH).

GAMH came about because I’d become very aware that in most countries men’s health was not being addressed, or even talked about, and agencies with a global role, such as the World Health Organisation seemed to believe that gender was about women alone. My view is that there need not be a conflict between men’s health and women’s health; they are not binary opposites or a zero sum game. In fact, they are closely intertwined: improving men’s health would be good for women’s health and vice versa.

What makes me passionate about improving men’s health is a firm belief that, when it comes to health, men are not being treated sympathetically or fairly. Too many men are dying too young or living too many years with debilitating health problems, both physical and mental. It could be so much better.

Tackling men’s health problems is not only ethically the right thing to do – because enjoying optimal health is a basic human right – it also makes good economic sense too. We know from studies in the United States and Canada that men’s health problems are very expensive for health services and for society as a whole.

Me: What inspires you on a daily basis, especially when things get hard?

PB: I relish the intellectual and creative challenge of finding new and different ways of making change happen even in the least propitious circumstances. I’m also inspired by breakthroughs in men’s health in the least likely places; for example, I learned very recently that a National Men’s Health Policy has been developed in Iran. (Such policies had previously existed only in Australia, Brazil and Ireland.) I’ve also been impressed and actually staggered by the exponential growth in the number of men’s sheds in many countries; these are helping to reduce older men’s social isolation, improve mental wellbeing and increase participation in community projects.

Me: In what ways can healthcare and public health professionals engage men to be more proactive in their health?

PB: The Men’s Health Forum in the UK recently published an evidence-based guide to engaging men in mental health services. This contains ‘Top Tips’ that very neatly encapsulate the actions that are most likely to engage men to be more proactive in almost any aspect of their health. Here are some of them:

  • Start by understanding what the barriers are currently.
  • Communicate with men in a way that respects their maleness.
  • Be positive about men.
  • Ensure that interventions have clear objectives that its users understand.
  • Consider basing interventions on shared activities.
  • Make sure the setting is a ‘safe male space’.
  • Incorporate peer support.
  • Publicize positive examples.

Me: Describe your vision for GAMH in the future.  Where do you see it in the next year, 5 and 10?

PB: GAMH is still in its early stages and is slowly building up its infrastructure and developing its ideas and strategy. In the next 5-10 years, I expect it to be established as a small but influential international advocacy organisation with members in many more countries at all levels of income and development. It will be recognised by other global health agencies, not least WHO, as a reputable source of information, advice and guidance. It will have succeeded in putting men’s health firmly on the global gender agenda.

Me: What are the current needs in (city or country you live in) as they relate to social determinants of health (i.e SES, poverty, access to care, transportation, safety, etc.)?

PB: I live in the UK where male life expectancy still lags behind female (by four years) and where men are much more likely to die before the age of 75 (60% of all premature deaths are male). The group which has experienced the smallest decline in age-specific mortality over the past 20 years is men aged 25-45. There is a marked social gradient in life expectancy and it is steeper in men than women; in other words, deprivation has a bigger impact on men’s health than women’s.

Men are poor users of a wide range of primary care services (general practice, pharmacy, optometry and dentistry) and some screening services, especially bowel cancer screening. They are particularly reluctant to access services for common mental health problems like anxiety and depression. Part of the explanation for this is that services have not been designed with men in mind and they are not actively encouraged to use them. Workplaces also account for a wide range of health problems in men in the UK, particularly deaths and serious injuries.

Although more account has been taken of men’s health in recent years in the UK, there is still no national men’s health policy and practical action tends to be localized, patchy, short-term and small in scale. A strategic approach, both nationally and locally, is needed if men’s health inequalities are to be tackled effectively.

Public Health in Action – A Contemporary Lens


Two story lines typically emerge in the days following a mass shooting: gun control and mental health.  8 days after the Orlando nightclub shooting on June 12, gun control has been the main focus, highlighted by Senator Chris Murphy’s marathon 15-hour filibuster (during which 48 more were shot).  How Congress responds is up for debate, but a quick glance at recent history following mass shootings is a telling sign.

A few years ago, in the wake of the Newtown school massacre, Sarah Kliff wrote about unmet mental health needs and articulated why the U.S. healthcare system failed to meet those needs.  Could those shootings have been prevented with a more robust and effective mental health care system?  Perhaps.  Judging how well systemic changes affect health outcomes can take years.  And that’s only after changes have been implemented.  As of now, access to mental health services is more difficult to come by compared to other health care services.  It’s unfortunate that discussions on mental health become inextricably tied to violence, but grassroots social movements to reduce stigma on mental health issues have risen in recent years.  While we wait for systems-level change to improve access to mental health services, a few recognizable celebrities have leveraged their social platforms to raise awareness: Glenn Close with Bring Change 2 Mind and most recently Prince William’s talk on Father’s Day.

Advocacy leaders have also shared their unique stories and experiences to dispel stigma.  Hannah Blum, creator of Halfway2Hannah, chronicles her experiences living with Bipolar disorder from her unique 20-something perspective.  With vivid detail, Hannah reflects a raw authenticity in her writing that connects and engages readers.

I’m excited to share her thoughts in my interview with her (below).


Me: How did you end up doing the work that you’re currently doing?

Hannah Blum: I began volunteering in the mental health community via National Alliance on Mental Illness North Carolina NC (NAMI).  I did simple jobs around the office. They were unaware of my diagnosis.  Then an opportunity came up and I felt like I could help.  It was a local public speaking engagement about mental illness.  I decided to finally open up about my diagnosis.  From there I really began to get involved, getting to know people in the community, and felt like I could get creative on reducing the stigma.

Me: Describe your journey to your blog, Halfway2Hannah – why is raising awareness and/or reducing stigma about mental health issues important to you? Why is it important to others?

HB: I have been writing for years.  Halfway2hannah was originally a “Style” blog for women.  However, I realized that there was no passion in my writing and it showed by the lack of people reading, so I put it on hold.  A couple years later, I had built up this content in journals about my story.  My Bachelor’s Degree is in Communication-Media, and I became fascinated by the impact social media, and online mediated platforms has on the public.  The mental health conversation needed a contemporary look to get the attention of young adults.  I worked everyday for hours and hours while working and attending school.  I launched the blog in January 2016, and I am so thankful for the response it has received thus far.

At the end of the day, Bipolar does not define me, however, it is a major part of my life, and always will be.

The stigma directly affects me and my life.  Not only that, but the information about mental illness people are receiving from the media is fabricated and untrue.  Imagine being compared to a mass shooter when violent thoughts have never been a part of your life.  I felt like I was obligated to start a movement against the stigma of mental illness.  The stigma stops people from receiving help, and coming forward.  It is sad to say that people with mental illness begin doubting themselves when they are constantly told terrible things about their condition.

Me: What inspires you on a daily basis, especially when things get hard?

HB: My family and those I have met along the way that encouraged me to share my story.  The people who have been silenced by stigma.  It is funny because every time I have questioned my decision to write the blog, I receive a beautiful message from someone that truly inspires me.  I get my energy from those who surround me with support and love, including my followers.

Me: What would you like to see in the next few years for our society as it relates to mental health?

HB: I believe that the image of mental health needs to change.  Mental health encompasses everything from a clinical diagnosis to struggling with our differences.  This requires younger people who have had success in their lives to come forward.  I would like to encourage popular brands to work with the mental health community to establish awareness.  People are getting tired of reality television shows, and being surrounded by superficial people and objects.  The public is yearning for real stories.  I believe the public is at a point in which they are looking to find inspiration in real things going on in society, and are willing to help regardless of a diagnosis.  I want mental health campaigns to be on billboards, in magazines, on television etc.  I want people to be consumed by real stories by real people.

Me: What do you foresee as the biggest challenge(s) to the movement mentioned above?

HB: Getting people to really understand mental illness, and why it is important we embrace our differences rather than reject them.  The stigma has been embedded into our heads, and this is very difficult to wipe away.  Majority of society still believes that people with mental illness are weak, incapable of maintaining jobs and violent.  This is a major challenge we are faced with.

Me: What are the current needs of the population as they relate to social determinants of health (i.e SES, poverty, access to care, transportation, safety, etc.)?  We can tie this to mental health or overall health and well-being in general.

HB: I think we need to be focused on being proactive, instead of waiting for people to really hit rock bottom.  Our hospitals need to be cleaned up for sure, but the funding is just not there.  We need to change how people with mental illness view medication, however, this is not my area of expertise.  It is all about well-being.  It is about learning to connect our bodies to our minds, and this will help in all areas.  People have to learn to be more selfless and reach out to those in need even if they do not understand their circumstances.  We have to start at the beginning by acknowledging the health issues in our society, and informing people about it.  It is very important to be active on academic campuses such as Universities where young people struggle with health in all areas and are more willing to listen.  This is the future of our society, and we need to catch them early on.

Public Health in Action – Time for a Reality Check


Back in 2008, in the summer between semesters at graduate school, I took an internship with the Men’s Health Network (MHN) in Washington, D.C.  I had no idea then how transformative it would be.  Looking back now, it was a reality check of sorts.

In the semester before my internship, I took a class on U.S. Healthcare Delivery and Comparative Health Systems, both of which examined existing healthcare policies – in the U.S. and countries abroad – as well as then presidential candidate Obama’s proposed healthcare reforms (early foundations of the Affordable Care Act).  Those courses catapulted my awareness and understanding of systems-level thought and practice on population health.  And it inspired me to gain firsthand experience in Washington.

After eight weeks at MHN I came to the realization there was an underlying issue that couldn’t be addressed with access to healthcare services.  Health insurance was thought and continues to be thought of as a solution to our nation’s health woes.  Unfortunately, there’s one population that remains constant with respect to health disparities – men.  Regardless of race, men live an average of five years fewer than their female counterparts.  Additionally, men with health insurance do not fare much better; the gap still exists.

My internship experience at MHN left me wondering: why and how can this be improved?  I can recall many conversations I’ve had from outreach programs in the various DC/Maryland/Virginia communities.  Attendees pass by the MHN booth and are usually puzzled.  My first question was always, “Who lives longer, men or women?”  Every single person, man or woman gets this right – women do by a few years.  My follow up question is more difficult to answer: why?

Answering why men are disproportionately less healthy and how to improve their health and wellness is extremely complex and something that advocates have been working on for decades.

Dr. Jesse Mills, urologist from The Men’s Clinic at UCLA is a passionate physician and advocate to improve men’s health and he shared his vision with me (below).


Me: How did you end up doing the work that you’re currently doing?  Describe your journey to your current role as the head of The Men’s Clinic at UCLA.  Describe why you’re passionate about making men healthy…why others should care about the health disparities between genders.

Jesse Mills: In medical school, I quickly developed an interest in sexual dysfunction and microsurgery for male factor infertility.  This led to a residency in urology and a fellowship in male reproductive medicine and surgery.  My first position out of fellowship was in a large group urology practice in Denver where my practice diverged away from general urology into complete sub-specialization in male sexual health and reproductive medicine.  I founded the first comprehensive men’s health center in Colorado: The Center for Men’s Health at The Urology Center of Colorado.  After 8 years in Colorado in private practice, I realized how important men’s health is and the lack of a medical school or residency curriculum for the discipline.  Thankfully, Dr. Mark Litwin, chair of Urology at UCLA, shared my vision and we both quickly saw the opportunity to not only provide expert, evidence-based care to the men of Los Angeles and beyond, but also to foster an interest in men’s health among medical students, residents and fellows.  My passion for men’s health comes out of my own passion for being a healthy male.  Why is it that I know how to exercise, eat well and be on top of my health screenings so that I can stay lean, fit and energetic and live a preventative lifestyle?  I didn’t learn this directly in medical school but I pay attention to research in fitness and nutrition and I want to share this with my patients and medical professionals alike. Gender health disparities are interesting and one would think easy to fix.  Women become enfranchised into the adult medical world at 18 with their first pelvic exam.  Men don’t have a regular screening until they hit age 50.  In those ensuing 32 years, guys can do a lot of damage to themselves and cost the healthcare system billions of dollars in preventable disease.  If a man could spend a half hour with a men’s health expert every year and get his vital signs checked, get updated on nutrition and fitness, get a physical exam and appropriate blood tests checked and leave the office with health goals for the next year, how great would that be?


Me: What inspires you on a daily basis, especially when things get hard?

 JM: My biggest inspiration is my wife.  She is strong, encouraging and understands how hard I work to further the cause of men’s health and she is my greatest reality check.  For example, the amount of hours I’ve been putting in to launching the Men’s Clinic at UCLA have definitely taken away from my personal fitness time.  Without offending me, the other day she just happened to ask me, when my shirt was off, “when are you going to get back in the gym?!”  Turns out even I need a men’s health specialist to keep me on track—mine just happens to be my wife.  When things get stressful, my best outlet is turning to exercise, walking my dogs, taking a few moments to re-calibrate and focus on what’s important:  family and living a meaningful life.


Me: In what ways can healthcare and public health professionals engage men to be more proactive in their health?

JM: Don’t be afraid to confront men.  Any patient of mine will tell you that I’m brutally honest with them about their weight, diet and exercise.  Not a visit goes by that I don’t remind them to stick with their nutrition and exercise plans.  Every doctor needs to not only tell a man he’s overweight, smoking or drinking too much but also let the man know you’re there to help.  From the urology perspective, it’s easy for me.  I tell a man the health risks he can prevent including obesity, diabetes, and cigarette smoking will all lead to sexual dysfunction and low testosterone.  Men’s health is sexual health and sexual health is overall health.  We all know the studies showing that men with erectile problems in their 40s are twice as likely to have severe cardiac disease within 10 years than men with normal sexual function.


Me: Describe your vision for the Men’s Clinic at UCLA.  Where do you see it in the next year, 5 and 10?

JM: My vision is to develop a national, reproducible model for comprehensive men’s health that demonstrates positive outcomes.  I want to show, through research, that when I see a man in his 30s with erectile dysfunction or infertility, he can become a healthier 50- and 60-year-old.  I also want to develop a medical school curriculum that makes future doctors aware of how to effectively treat all aspects of men’s health and continue to collaborate with other medical disciplines.  In 5 years, I’d like to have satellite clinics around Los Angeles where men will see well-trained physicians and extenders who follow American Urological Association Men’s Health Checklists for screening and interventions and provide the same passionate and compassionate care that I can provide in Westwood and Santa Monica.  In 10 years, I’d like to have enough physicians that have trained in our UCLA fellowship that we have a national model for men’s health.


Me: What are the current needs in Los Angeles as they relate to social determinants of health (i.e SES, poverty, access to care, transportation, safety, etc.)?

JM: Los Angeles is at least 40 different communities living under one title.  We have some of the wealthiest zip codes in the nation and some of the poorest.  We have, in public health, for so many years looked to increase access to health care.  On a trauma and cancer level, that is critical.  However, preventive medicine delivered outside of the hospitals would be dollar for dollar more worthwhile.  I fully support the opinion of Corey Booker, U.S. Senator from New Jersey, that so much health care starts with building fundamentals of nutrition and exercise to keep men out of the hospital in the first place.  For the billions of federal dollars spent on diabetes medication, we could spend a fraction on nutrition education and reduce the diabetes epidemic and dependency on pharmaceutical solutions.  I love the idea of urban gardens and decreasing federal subsidies that favor processed foods over fresh fruits and vegetables.  Los Angeles is the greatest growing environment in the country and is a perfect testing ground to allow inner city youth access to fresh fruits and vegetables on their blocks.  There’s no reason we can’t educate children on proper, unbiased nutrition at an early age.  I grew up in the era where school lunches considered ketchup a vegetable!  We have to do better than that.


Jesse Mills, MD

The Men’s Clinic at UCLA

Dr. Jesse N. Mills is a urologist specializing in male reproductive medicine and surgery with a busy surgical practice focusing on vasectomy reversal, sperm retrieval, microsurgical varicocelectomy, Peyronie’s disease and penile implant.

His clinical specialties revolve around men’s health and include male hormone management, sexual and ejaculatory dysfunction, male fertility and Peyronie’s disease. He also has a special interest in restoring fertility and sexuality in men with spinal cord injuries

Public Health in Action – A Silent Health Crisis


Of all the things in the fields of both public health and healthcare that pique my interest and attention most, it’s health disparities, specifically the numbers 5 and 7.  In a country as productive and innovative as ours, it’s a particularly vexing reality check whenever I’m faced with those two numbers, which I’ve listed below along with their respective contexts.

5  – the difference, in years, of life expectancy between genders

*Life Expectancy at Birth in 2013: Female 81.2 years  Male 76.4 years

**Races considered: Hispanic, White, Black

5 & 7- the difference, in years, of life expectancy between females & males respectively

*Longest life expectancy to shortest in each gender

Health disparities are the end products of a variety of complex factors including, but not limited to the social determinants of health: SES, transportation, access to healthcare, employment, etc.  Additionally, they are also impacted by biological (our genes and family history), social (our culture and networks) and environmental (our physical surroundings) factors.  Lastly, health disparities are impacted by individual health behaviors and lifestyles.

The numbers 5 and 7, to me, represent a collective challenge: how can we bring these numbers down, thereby reducing  health disparities in our country?  What other perspectives do we need outside the fields of public health and healthcare to reduce health disparities?

My conversation with Steve Petty, Corporate Director for Community Health Improvement at INTEGRIS Health could offer some insight to the issues I’ve raised above.


Me: How did you end up doing the work that you’re currently doing?

Steve Petty: I have been working in health care for 29 years.  I started in a marketing/public relations role and several other areas and have worked in community and employee wellness for the last 20 years.

In community wellness, our mission (the same as INTEGRIS Health) is to improve the health of the people and communities we serve.  Our department works in many at-risk, minority and under-served communities.  The state of Oklahoma has very poor health indicators for about everything you can possibly imagine.  We are working to provide health, wellness and health education services to those most in need, but to also educate people in general about the need to take care of themselves – know their health numbers (blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.), to get routine and regular exams, among others.

One area that continued to grab my attention was comparatively poor health indicators for men.   It was alarming to discover that such few men actually went to a regular doctor or health provider, let alone had access to any type of screenings.  INTEGRIS had been doing a Women’s Health Forum for many years then.  Most of their outreach efforts were for women who had insurance (employer-based or from retirement) but a majority of them were proactive with their health for the most part.

Two of my colleagues and I developed a proposal that would address men’s health in a different way that wasn’t intimidating to men, but still covered all aspects of their health and education.  Our leadership liked the idea, but a few seemed skeptical that we would be able to attract men to a health event.  We were confident that we could succeed if we tied it to something they were interested in, so, naturally, we partnered with the local sports radio station and used humor to make it a different kind of health event.

In our first event in 2004, over 300 men attended our event and we’ve had steady attendance ever since.  We continue to add more events and health screenings which have proven successful and have replicated many of these screenings and events in our rural communities where we have smaller hospitals and populations with limited access to health education programs and services.

We started planning our event back in 2003 and realized there wasn’t a lot of information on men’s health events anywhere.  Through internet searches, I stumbled upon the Men’s Health Network (MHN) webpage.  We finally found a resource to help us secure health education literature for our upcoming men’s health conference and MHN’s Jim Boyd and Scott Williams were crucial partners in planning that event and others since.  MHN has been one of our biggest supporters and partners in our efforts to improve the health of men and boys in Oklahoma.  The partnership has given me the opportunity to present our program and services across the country and at the 2009 International Society on Men’s Health in Vienna, Austria.  I’ve served on several committees through recommendations by MHN, and that’s how I got involved with the American Public Health Association (APHA) Men’s Health Caucus (MHC).  I was fortunate enough to be involved with the caucus early and have served in several positions since its inception in 2008.  I currently serve as the chair for the MHC and represent our group in the APHA’s Caucus Collaborative.

Me: What inspires you on a daily basis, especially when things get hard?

SP: I’m inspired by all the work being done which focuses on the health of men and boys.  It’s amazing to see how awareness and interest to keep men healthy has escalated over the years among government officials, businesses, marketing professionals and the public as a whole.   I’m also inspired by all of the great programs and services we’ve implemented here in Oklahoma, not just for men, but to improve health outcomes for the entire population, including children, senior citizens and minority populations.  We have a long way to go to show impact, but we are slowly making progress throughout the state.

Me: Can you share some of the progress you’ve made at INTEGRIS as it relates to men’s health outreach?

SP:  A large percentage of men have only limited contact with physicians and the health care system as a whole. Men not only fail to get routine check-ups or preventive care, but often ignore symptoms or delay seeking medical attention when sick or in pain. These poor health habits take their toll – beginning at early ages and rising significantly as males reach retirement age.

Because INTEGRIS is determined to raise awareness of this “silent crisis” and turn the tide, we’ve implemented an innovative men’s health initiative, Men’s Health University (a.k.a. Men-U). It’s designed to educate men and their families on the importance of men taking charge of their own health. Established in 2004, Men-U consists of free screenings and information, physician seminars, an annual wellness fair, (the 2006 event drew more than 700 people), and this website devoted solely to men’s health.

INTEGRIS Health Edmond- Shoot Straight! Keep your health care goals on target.JPG

By bringing men back into the health care system, INTEGRIS is helping them overcome one of their biggest health risks – that of just being a man. And knowledge is power. Even if males are aware of just two numbers, blood pressure and cholesterol, and take active steps to lower them if either reaches an unhealthy range, it can make a huge difference in their longevity.

African American Men's Health Summit 2015- Registration Table.JPG

Me: Describe your vision for Integris Health.  Where do you see Integris and/or MHC in 1, 5 or 10 years and what kind of impact do you plan to make?

SP: My vision for INTEGRIS Health is really coming together for our community.  INTEGRIS is one of the few health systems in Oklahoma that gives back to the community in such a substantial manner.  We are finding new partnership and collaborative opportunities with agencies and organizations who have similar missions.  Additionally, we continue to explore innovative ways to make an impact on the health and wellness of our communities by sharing resources and services with partners like the Regional Food Bank, Oklahoma City County Health Department, the local Federally Qualified Health Center, churches and colleges.  All of these groups are coming together to hold events, offer services, programs and share resources, all of which help us improve the lives and health of our targeted communities.  I hope in the next year, our work to develop a comprehensive health, wellness and education resource center will come to fruition.  I hope we can replicate this model across our service areas in the next 5 to 10 years.  This will make a huge impact on patient access, especially if we can get other hospital systems to join with us.

Me: What are the current needs in Oklahoma City as they relate to social determinants of health (i.e SES, poverty, access to care, transportation, safety, etc.)?

SP:  The needs in all of these areas listed above are, unfortunately, not being met in many areas.  We observe access to care being a recurring obstacle for many individuals.  People can’t afford health insurance through the Affordable Care Act and/or their co-payments, so they have to use our emergency departments as a clinic or their healthcare provider.  We have about 19 free clinics in the metro area that are at capacity due to unmet needs of populations with limited resources or circumstances – uninsured, undocumented and underprivileged.


Oklahoma, as a state, faces many challenges as documented in their annual state report, however, passionate community leaders like Steve Petty and his colleagues are working diligently to improve health outcomes at the local level.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” –Margaret Mead

If you’re interested in learning more or working with Steve to improve health and well-being in Oklahoma, contact him at


Public Health in Action – Intentionally Healthy

A quick Google search of the word “patriotic” gave me what one would expect: definitions and images.  The first few images displayed, symbols of America – the red, white and blue flag; the Statue of Liberty; and the bald eagle – are a few things that each of us would consider patriotic.

Patriotic (adjective): having or expressing devotion to and vigorous support for one’s own country.

I moved to Washington, D.C. in May of 2009 shortly after finishing my coursework in graduate school.  I remember that first summer vividly because it marked a new chapter in my life.  I left all the comforts of my native southern California – sunny weather year-round, non-existent winters and dry air – for something completely opposite in DC.  The city was built on a swamp and boy did your body feel like it was one in those hot and humid summer months.  One of my favorite memories in my time in Washington was celebrating America’s Independence Day on the National Mall.  If I did a quick Google search of patriotism in my own mind, that memory would be the first hit.

The second hit, however, may surprise you.  It’s a combination of images and words from then Acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak (here’s an example).  In several speeches or remarks, Dr. Lushniak suggests that true patriotism lies within each of us and a result of taking care of our own health and well-being.  Highlighting the financial burden of our healthcare system as well as the rising rates of chronic disease, he emphasizes that our country’s future is at stake.  And the true leader that he is, he ended each speech or talk by asking us to join him in physical activity.  Leaders that walk (or bike) the talk.  Literally.

I’ve never met Samantha Attard in person.  I have, however, seen and read many of her blog posts and regularly read her email newsletters.  Samantha embodies Dr. Lushniak’s vision of patriotism.  And she also takes it a step further by sharing and infecting her passion for health and well-being with anyone who crosses her path.  It’s a privilege to feature her on my own blog today.


Samantha Attard, PhD, Wellness Coach and Yoga Instructor
Twitter/Instagram/Periscope: happyhealthysam

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Me: How did you end up doing the work that you’re currently doing?

Samantha Attard: I became interested in nutrition and yoga on a personal level in high school, but it wasn’t until I was in the midst of my undergraduate education that I thought about applying my personal passions to a career. I was studying Chemical Engineering at Cooper Union, and noticed that the eating and work habits of a lot of people weren’t conducive to feeling good or working at their best. Through yoga, I learned about Ayurveda, which is the ancient Indian system of medicine. I fell in love with their view of health. The Ayurvedic perspective is that prevention is the key to the best health. They also emphasize continuity in your life: they believe that what you do at work affects your personal life, and vice versa. It was a completely new way to view health and lifestyle for me – that all of the tiny decisions you make throughout the day add up to a greater whole that hopefully supports your overall health and well-being.

It was at that time that I became more interested in pursuing a degree in nutrition or health. I considered medical school, but realized that 24-hour shifts in the hospital wasn’t going to be personally healthy for me. I then learned about public health, and I fell in love. I had experienced first hand how our communities affect our lifestyle decisions and wellness, and I wanted to help build more health-focused communities.

That led me to pursue a PhD in nutrition at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In my research, I used large data sets to examine how changing community environments in China contributed to obesity, diabetes, and hypertension. I truly enjoyed my research, but I noticed two different things that convinced me to pursue an alternative career outside academia.

First, I noticed that after decades of research and dedication to preventing and curing obesity, we weren’t making great strides. I remembered back to my background in Ayurveda and began to realize that some of our trouble was a focus on single, blanket solutions, rather than addressing individual needs, barriers and motivations.

At the same time, I realized that making a direct impact on a person’s wellness was very satisfying to me personally. I realized that there is a great opportunity to influence and help when you are working directly with people, either individually or in small groups.

Meanwhile, I decided to complete my yoga teacher training, a personal goal of mine for many years. But once I started teaching, I was hooked. I realized once again how much I loved working directly with people and helping them to feel their best, so I started to teaching.

I always knew that my approach to nutrition and wellness was unorthodox – I combine a stringent scientific criteria to everything I share, but I’m also open and welcoming to complementary medical therapies and practices. That’s why I decided to start my own blog and practice. I take the best practices from Eastern and Western nutrition, psychology, economics, and behavior change to help my clients feel and be their best.

Me: What inspires you on a daily basis, especially when things get hard?

SA: I think that feeling inspired is a conscious choice. So, first, I purposefully surround myself with beautiful spaces, great books, and take yoga classes as often as I can. Taking long walks through Washington, D.C. and listening to great podcasts with smart thinkers is one of my favorite activities and helps me recharge my batteries.

Reading emails from members of the Happy Healthy Human community are huge for boosting my inspiration. When I hear how readers and clients are implementing changes and are feeling good, I can’t help but feel happy and grateful. It inspires and energizes me to create more.

Periscope (smartphone app) is probably the best way for me to re-energize. The community has such great conversations and asks fabulous questions in response to my live videos. It’s fun to engage, share and help right there on the fly, and I truly love it!

Me: What does health and wellness look like to you? Specifically, what would a person with perfect health and well-being look like and do (eat, activities, etc)?

SA: To me, perfect health and well-being starts with confidence. It starts with that strength of knowing yourself and being willing to assert your position in the world.

Once you have that confidence and strength of yourself, it becomes a lot easier to turn down another offer or project and instead do yoga or meditate, or spend time doing something you need to do for yourself. It becomes easier to slow down and ask yourself if you really need a second slice of cake. You want to exercise because it’s a reminder that you are alive and strong.

With that being said, I truly believe and know that “perfect” health looks different for everyone. Some common features would be taking time for quiet (whether that’s meditation, reading a book, knitting, or taking a walk), getting active/exercise, and connecting with friends or family that you love. You put those three things into your everyday, and you are much closer to perfect health.

Me: What changes, either as a society or as a system (healthcare, government, or others) do you consider necessary for more people to progress towards the perfect picture of health and well-being that you described above?

SA: I think the biggest change that needs to happen as a society is to drop the judgment. This judgment comes out of a lack of self-confidence that is so rampant. But it’s when we fear judgement that we don’t follow our true desires. I think our fear of judgment holds back so many people from achieving true happiness and health in their lives.

Me: What are the current needs in Washington, D.C. as they relate to social determinants of health (i.e SES, poverty, access to care, transportation, safety, etc.)?

SA: I see the need for smarter gentrification. There are a lot of changing neighborhoods in DC. Some have done a great job of incorporating the current community (I’m thinking of Columbia Heights/Petworth), and some have done less well.

I’m proud of yoga studios like Yoga Heights (who I work for). They do everything they can to make yoga accessible, affordable, and welcoming for everyone in the community.  I love the mission of With Love DC – they put on events that are inspiring, low-cost, and welcoming to everyone.

I hope the metro/subway system decides to subsidize fares for service workers and the people who need it most, rather than strictly government employees.

I think that as DC continues to grow and evolve, smart integration and providing services to people of lower SES will determine if it becomes a welcoming, more equitable community, or go the route of some cities that are perpetually divided by race and SES.

Public Health in Action – The Power of ‘We’

January 21, 2016 – In the midst of the hustle and bustle of the Talley Student Union on North Carolina State University’s (NCSU) Central Campus, blurs of orange emerge from the sea of red and white.  The line of students waiting for free “Beat Duke” shirts bisect the atrium under the building’s picturesque skylight.  A feast for the senses await – smells of fresh baked pizza and roasted coffee waft from the food court; posters stamped with hashtags and incomprehensible conversations about relationships and the upcoming statistics exam.  Once sensory overload settles, curiosity sets in motion: where are these orange balloons coming from?

Armed with an orange display “television” and thousands of balloons, the HealthBeMe (HBM) team welcomes students with bright eyes and big smiles.

metv dayofgood_2

Beyond the hard-to-miss orange television and friendly, smiling faces, it’s clear that there’s more.  “It’s so refreshing not to be marketed at but rather to be made part of something so positive,” says NC State engineering student Jonathan Duncan.  “The world would be such a better place if everyone made doing good even a small part of each day.”  Not only did students get the message and purpose of HBM’s “Go Do Good” campaign, but felt apart of it.  They embraced the simple idea of encouraging intentional acts of kindness.  HBM’s campaign also extended into the local Raleigh startup community.  Liz Tracy, Director of Community Engagement at HQ Raleigh says “companies like HealthBeMe are the essence of the startup community. They are living proof that having a for-good mission is really something inspirational to rally behind.”

It’s not hard to hear or read stories on the news about violence, death, poverty and injustice.  Quite the opposite can be said for good stories.  Feel-good stories are few and far between.

Just days earlier, the nation celebrated and honored the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. with its annual day of service in communities throughout the country.  Dr. King, a well renowned proponent for civil rights, strongly encouraged service and elevated its importance – “life’s most persistent and urgent question is: what are you doing for others.”  Additionally one of the most recognizable victims to gun violence, Thursday’s event is also especially timely with President Obama’s executive action in early 2016 to tighten gun restrictions at the federal level in an attempt to curb gun violence.

“HealthBeMe represents a growing campus presence of emerging social enterprises that have at their core a mission to do good in the world,” says Elizabeth Benefield, Director of Social Entrepreneurship at NCSU.  The campus launched an initiative to support social entrepreneurs in December of 2013 and houses an institute to mentor, nurture and develop students with hands-on learning opportunities in the burgeoning field.  “HealthBeMe is a powerful idea that has great potential to change the way we access and manage our healthcare, and is uniquely bringing together many pockets of campus expertise.”

What kind of impact can this campaign make on NCSU’s campus community?  Can that impact be replicated to other communities across the nation?


I first met Jason Dragos, CEO and Founder of HealthBeMe, at a meeting in Durham introducing the local B Corp movement in the Research Triangle.  Jason radiates passion in his work and has such an internal desire to make a positive impact. This became a recurring theme throughout the morning. I can say without a doubt that I left the meeting inspired, energized and encouraged that others were so determined to leave the world a better place.


I caught up with the fun loving CEO a few days after their “Go Do Good” event and wanted to learn more about his motivation and vision for their event and the future.  Let’s hear what Jason had to say.

Me: How did you end up doing the work that you’re currently doing? Is it something specific that pushes you?

Jason Dragos: I genuinely feel like I was born to change the world in some way. I’m driven by my values and I’m always pushing to do things differently. That combination makes me pretty much a corporate nightmare. I don’t like following rules, I hate the staus quo and I’m a whistle blower (damn values). I’m not driven by money or recognition. Since starting HealthBeMe I’ve just felt pure inspiration. I don’t need motivation, I have purpose. I would do it for free. Actually, I pretty much am right now. So yeah, I pretty much knew I was going to take the entrepreneurial route. I tell my team all of the time, “the riskiest thing we can do is to play it safe.” That kind sums me up too.

Me: Describe your journey to your current role as the CEO and founder of HealthBeMe.

JD: Most of my life I didn’t have purpose or a clear direction. I was just on this quest to find myself and figure out what mark I wanted to leave on the world. I was certain about two things though. I love helping people I wanted do something technology could never replace. So the core values behind HealthBeMe have been with me as long as I can remember.

HealthBeMe first came to me while I was living in London. I was a partner in a healthcare marketing agency but I didn’t really believe in the work we were doing. We we just chasing cash. I knew this role wasn’t right for me, so I decided to leave the company.

After I left, I felt free to create my own vision. I went crazy from day 1 almost with whiteboards and post it notes, sketching out what had been in my head for the past few years. The freedom I felt completely changed the ‘idea’ of HBM. HBM became a purpose. Just changing my perspective changed everything. I no longer saw HealthBeMe as a company, a way of making money or a solution to a problem. It became my reason for existing; I really felt a true sense responsibility. I know that a change in perspective sounds simple, but it completely changed my vision for HealthBeMe and even me as a person.

Me: What inspires you on a daily basis, especially when things get hard?

JD: That’s easy. Like I said, it’s the people. The people we are trying to help. They make sure my internal compass always points me in the right direction. Without them, my purpose is dead. Having a purpose is what gives me the confidence to keep fighting each day. My wife is my other true inspiration. I want for her to look at me and be proud of the man that I am.

I feels more like a privilege really. So the list of things that inspire me is long. I wake up each day and remind myself that I get to work toward improving someone’s life. That is so awesome. There is no separation between ‘Jason’ and HealthBeMe at this point. But I can’t do it alone knowing that people who have my back is so important. My friends, my family and my team inspire me everyday. I am inspired by their commitment to me and our purpose. It’s just another bit of proof that our purpose is far bigger than me.

Me: What do you use for motivation?

JD: I don’y need much motivation at all. I’m inspired. But one motivator is fear. I am 100% confident that HealthBeMe’s vision is the right kind of vision to bring about huge change to health/healthcare. The social opportunity is massive but so is the financial one. I just want to make sure that I am the one that does it because I know that my values and purpose are genuine. We will do it the right way, use resources for-good and truly care about helping people. I get angry when I think about another company creating some exploitive platform or purely doing it for the money. I know I’ll do what’s right for our members. I will maximize the right kind of value.

Me: How important is your company as it relates to the local community?

JD: First of all the idea of ‘community’ is central to HealthBeMe. Our philosophy is ‘HealthBeMe by the power of ‘We’. Our ability to build communities will directly dictate our level of success. We actually refer to ourselves as a community building company, not a technology company. We’re learning how to better build and strengthen relationships within all types of on/offline communities, especially in the Research Triangle. We know how vital it is to create win-win relationships with people and organizations who offer different perspectives, approaches and resources.

Our journey so far has us very much plugged into the Research Triangle community which has been a massively support. We do try and can to give back to the community anytime we can. For the past 6-7 months we have been deeply involved with North Carolina State University (NCSU). We work with the schools of Computer Science, Social Entrepreneurship and Communications the most. We’ve secured a technology and University partnership with NCSU. That has been so amazing for us. The CSC Department, specifically ITng and Oscar Lab have done so much to help us design our platform strategy and architecture.

NC State is actually a part of everything we are. I am an NCSU alumni, our early round investor was an alumni and our team (6 brand team, 4 tech team) is comprised of either current NCSU students or NCSU grads. Our tech team is based on NCSU’s Centennial Campus. Our brand team regularly work together at the Talley Student Union on Main Campus. We are also involved with local technology hubs HQ Raleigh and American Underground (in Durham). Building a community is important; building a community of people who believe in our purpose and are willing to help us bring it to life…that is truly awesome.

Me: Describe your vision for the company.

JD: My vision is to make HealthBeMe the most trusted brand in healthcare and most widely used health and wellness platform in the world. To bring my vision to life means we will need to be absolutely committed to our purpose and our values in everything we do. I’ve worked hard to make sure our purpose is built into all parts of the company from the beginning…our technology, our communities, our brand and even our business model have to be aligned. I feel trust has been really damaged by healthcare, so we need to continue to be genuine and transparent with with everything. So yeah, the biggest thing we can do is to keep our purpose at the center of everything rather than simply seeking profit. Profit must only be seen as the result; the result of the positive impact we make.

ME: So what kind of impact do you see HealthBeMe making? Meaning impact on society, healthcare system and the business world?

JD (on society impact): One thing I really love about HealthBeMe is that our ability to make a positive impact on health and society are closely linked. The vision is to create a philosophy, a product, a social environment and a movement that inspires people from a very basic human level. You can take away every feature, tool, button or setting relating to health and you will still find a social network inspired by the willingness and ability of people to help each other. As a society, our progress is totally dependent on our ability to unite for good…not be divided into a group of haves and have nots. We need each other to thrive.

I’ll tell you one story I really like. Nearly 150 years ago, Charles Darwin wrote The Descent Of Man, highlighting the future drivers of evolutionary progress. We tend to only recall one main anecdote from it, ‘survival of the fittest’. An expression regularly used to justify self-seeking behavior our lives, in business, in sports, even in education. But the part of this story that gets overlooked in Darwin’s book is that ‘survival of the fittest’ is only mentioned twice but he talks about ‘love’ 95 times. He mentions selfishness only 12 times, but moral sensitivity 92 times. The point is, we generally have it wrong. Society and social networks can advance fast and more effectively by a collective purpose. By creating social networks that are about more than self promotion we will be able to unify a movement around help each other, spreading kindness and doing good. This is a completely new type of social currency which can propel us to do exactly what Darwin claims will truly progress mankind: empathy and love.

JD (on healthcare impact): Well it all comes back to our purpose, my vision is to humanize and democratize health/healthcare. For an industry who exists to help and solve the most basic of human needs, it is incredibly cold and scientific. Because of this, it can be confusing and intimidating. By making access to health, health information, and other health resources accessible to all we can help level the playing field. We can give the people some control and power in the process. The industry currently operates like a monopoly. In fact it’s the only industry in the world where the market isn’t dictated by the consumer. Healthcare controls nearly every aspect of the buying cycle. They are only able to do it because we physically need what they have to stay alive and the system knows exactly how to maximize the economic value of each life. My vision for HealthBeMe is to create an environment that brings balance into the system, one that give everyone a voice and easily consumable and accessible information. We are breaking down barriers by making the experience more human, consumer driven and accessible for all.

JD (business world impact): I’m also incredibly driven to make positive impact in the business world by proving that business can be used a force for good. But not in the form of a year-end, tax free charitable donation. My vision is to incorporate doing good directly into the business model. We will do this by taking a ‘for good’ profit mentality. I want to prove that this is actually good business. In a world that is ever more connected, this approach will allow us to build a deeper level of trust with current and future members. Trust will then become its own social currency that will help us spread our brand mission and our grow our brand’s story. We are absolutely dedicated to using our platform to help people live healthier and we will use our resources to give back. This is something we’re serious about and we’ll prioritize.

Our potential impact can be huge. In fact, I told my team recently that the best possible outcome of HealthBeMe’s vision would ultimately be bad for our business. Best case, we make such positive impact to health and healthcare that cures take the place over treatments. If it happened, I would happily accept an unprofitable business model.

Me: What are the current needs in the Triangle as they relate to social determinants of health (i.e SES, poverty, access to care, transportation, safety, etc.)?

JD: The biggest social determinant affecting health in the triangle is the same determinant affecting health across the country. A fractured sense of community. As a society our value center is constantly manipulated by competing self-interests. In healthcare, the existing power structure (insurers, pharmaceutical companies, and healthcare providers) constantly fight to protect their interests at the expense of consumers. The monopolistic behavior of the industry places value on control of healthcare rather than access to healthcare. The only way for the us as a society to gain any influence within the current healthcare system is to have a collective voice. This requires both reestablishing a sense of togetherness and community.

I feel that there are three core components that need to be addressed to help empower and inspire a renewed sense of community to improve health for all. The first is to start telling a different story. Secondly, improving access to health education and information a communal experience. Finally, to create a small scale, grassroots model that can be replicated.


If you’re interested in connecting with Jason, follow him on Twitter: @JasonDragos or by email at