May 28, 1999
MEDIA CONTACT: Barb Chamberlain, 509/358-7527,

        SPOKANE, Wash. -- Washington State University researchers Michael Hendryx and Melissa Ahern will study the impact of social capital and income inequality on health care with the assistance of a $75,800 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
        Hendrix is the assistant director of the Washington Institute for Mental Illness Research and Training at WSU Spokane. Ahern is an associate professor in Health Policy and Administration at WSU Spokane.
        According to the researchers, a community rich in social capital creates the conditions necessary for people to enjoy a better health care system, despite the kind of insurance they have or whether they are in an HMO. "This is because social capital enables the creation and operation of more effective and efficient public and private institutions," says Hendryx.
        "Social capital" refers to citizen trust, cooperation, civic engagement, voting rates, voluntary charitable contributions and memberships in groups that meet face-to-face.
        One cause of low social capital may be income inequality. "To the extent that people feel that society is inherently unfair, as indicated by inequitable incomes, they may feel less trusting of each other and less engaged in community systems including health care systems," says Ahern.
        Ahern and Hendryx, along with other faculty researchers at WSU Spokane, have already published research on the relationship between community characteristics and the health status and well-being of individuals. Their findings indicate that persons with a good sense of community have better mental health. Also, people who live in good communities feel that they have better quality health care experiences.
        Their new study will identify particular community characteristics that have an impact on the effectiveness of health care financing and organization. Knowledge of these factors can help policy makers, health care providers, and community participants design better community health care systems.
        If Ahern and Hendryx's hypotheses are correct, the study will show that policy makers should focus less on traditional health care insurance and financing policies, and more on increasing levels of social capital and decreasing income inequality in communities.
        The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, based in Princeton, N.J., is the nation's largest philanthropy devoted exclusively to health and health care. It became a national institution in 1972 with receipt of a bequest from the industrialist whose name it bears. The foundation has since made more than $2.6 billion in grants.
        The foundation concentrates its grant making in three goal areas: to assure that all Americans have access to basic health care at a reasonable cost; to improve the way services are organized and provided to people with chronic health conditions; and to reduce the personal, social and economic harm caused by the abuse of tobacco, alcohol and illicit drugs.


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