ARC Joins Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky on Innovative “Bright Spots” Health Research Project

February 2015


WASHINGTON, February 2, 2015—The Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky are working together on a new three-year "bright spots" health research project to learn about factors that support a culture of health in Appalachian communities and to determine if that knowledge can be translated into actions that address health disparities between Appalachia and the nation as a whole. The project, "Creating a Culture of Health in Appalachia: Disparities and Bright Spots," will run through the end of 2017.

The project will identify Appalachian areas, or "bright spots," where health outcomes are better than would be expected based on unemployment and poverty rates and other community factors. Experts will then seek to determine the factors that help cause health outcomes in specific communities to be better than expected. The project will also seek to determine why health outcomes in some communities are not as good as would be expected, based on a series of community data points.

"The 'Bright Spots' project is a significant opportunity to learn from Appalachian communities that are building a culture of health in the face of economic hardship," said David Krol, MD, MPH, FAAP, senior program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. "Through this project, we hope to highlight Appalachian approaches to improving health outcomes and spread them to other communities in the Region. We're thrilled to support this important work."

ARC Federal Co-Chair Earl F. Gohl welcomed the opportunity to engage with foundation partners in this critical regional effort: "The Appalachian Regional Commission is very pleased to be partnering with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky in not only looking at health disparities in the Region but also seeking to determine factors that cause outcomes in specific communities. This new and innovative project will enable public and private stakeholders to more effectively target health interventions."

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation is providing $750,000 for the project, and ARC will contribute $250,000, for a combined project award of $1 million. The Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky will administer the project.

"This groundbreaking effort will provide a deeper understanding of factors that contribute to or undermine community health," said Susan Zepeda, president and CEO of the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky. " 'Bright spots' allow us to go beyond the data on economic and health status to community conversations and help us learn more about what's important for an enduring local culture of health."

The project will produce a database that documents and overlays county-level health and economic data and identifies "bright spots" that show positive health outcomes despite economic hardship; conduct qualitative explorations with local leaders to help explain the findings; and develop policy-based user tools, including a Web site featuring data sets and a GIS-based tool to aid in visualizing research outcomes and community profiles. The project will also examine policy implications and make implementation recommendations.

A request for proposals to conduct this work will be issued in March 2015.