Mom and Dad? We Need to Talk.

While watching our parents grow older is tough, the hardest part of it for most of us is the role reversal that takes place.  Suddenly sons and daughters are taking care of moms and dads — and that can often start with tough conversations on awkward subjects.  How do you talk with Mom about when it’s time to stop driving?  When Dad re-enters the dating world, what’s the best way to broach the topic of safe sex?  This episode of Total Health Radio is all about these difficult — but necessary — conversations we need to have with our aging parents.

Healthy Buildings: Reducing Use of Harmful Chemicals

Yesterday at the Center for Total Health, the U.S. Green Building Council  welcomed Arlene Blum, Ph.D., author, mountaineer, and founder of the Green Science Policy Institute, for a discussion of “Six Classes” – chemicals of concern, the science and policy of flame retardant chemicals, and the national health impacts of California’s changing flammability standards.

Arlene Blum, Ph.D.

Arlene Blum, Ph.D.

Rather than addressing the tens of thousands of chemicals on the market one at a time, the project educates decision makers in manufacturing, retail and government –  as well as consumers — about the “Six Classes” that contain many of the harmful chemicals in consumer products and building materials. The class approach can prevent regrettable substitutions, where a toxic chemical is removed and replaced by a chemical cousin with similar harmful properties.

Learn more at



let it snow!

Today is Our Birthday!

Today marks the third birthday for the Center for Total Health, which is hard to believe! We spend a lot of time looking forward to the many great things that lie ahead, but we wanted to take a moment to celebrate the first three years and thank those who have made them so memorable.

We’ve had thousands of visitors from more than 20 countries with interests ranging from maternal & child health to end-of-life care, walking to diversity, urban planning to farming. We have played with Playworks, brought healhy meals to our events, and spread the benefits of walking meetings.

healthy lunch

healthy lunch

To see photos from our first three years, visit our Flickr group. If you have photos you’d like to share with us, please feel free to add them to that group (now or anytime down the road).

Special thanks to our amazing, supportive colleagues within and outside Kaiser Permanente, including those who conceived of, designed and built the Center before any of the current team was here.

Here’s to another great year of hard work and lots of fun!

Our first Playworks ever! (2012)

Our first Playworks ever! (2012)

On a more personal note, my first day as a Kaiser Permanente employee was also three years ago today. I’ve had a great time meeting so many people working in so many ways to make health more achievable for all of us.  I’m three in Kaiser Permanente years now, too!

Kaiser Permanente Team with the Rosies

Real Life Rosies!

Today, the Center for Total Health team was delighted to host six real-life Rosies, so-called for the famous Rosie the Riveter of World War II. These women worked in Kaiser Shipyards — where Kaiser Permanente was born — while their friends, brothers, husbands, and neighbors were at war. They were among the first women hired for these jobs, and the first admitted into the Boilermakers Union.


In addition to the well-known Rosie image, we loved this poster showing safe shipyard attire.

Shipyard Dress

The women are in Washington, DC, to meet with Vice President Joe Biden, President Obama, and other senior government officials. See all the pictures here. You can read more about them, and World War II in the shipyards, on the History of Total Health Blog.

Photos of the Week: Students at the CTH

Today, the Center for Total Health welcomed two groups of students (or, as we like to call them, future health leaders): The first group was from the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, and second group included student volunteers for Health Leads. It was great to spend the day with young people so interested in, and passionate about, health!

University of Maryland MBA students

University of Maryland MBA students

Health Leads volunteers discuss possible uses for telemedicine with Executive Director Keith Montgomery.

Health Leads volunteers discuss possible uses for telemedicine with Executive Director Keith Montgomery.


Health Leads Student Volunteers

Health Leads Student Volunteers

Gut Instincts: All About Our Insides — This Week on Total Health Radio

We know, we know. Who really wants to talk about our insides and how they work? The thing is, though, we should. Digestion is a complex process, and it’s not always easy. Nearly 20 percent of U.S. adults suffer from Irritable Bowel Syndrome, and most of them are women. So if you’re curious about keeping your insides healthy, and if you’ve ever wondered about the connection between our insides and our brains, check out this show. We have a gut feeling you’ll like it.

For more information on this topic, and to check out all the episodes, visit the Total Health Radio website.

The Many Ways Seniors Can Benefit from a 5-star Medicare Health Plan

medicare5starRatingSystem_feb28_2014_300dpi_PRINT_READYMedicare’s Special Enrollment Period is underway for 5-star plans. What does that mean? It means that seniors and other Medicare-eligible beneficiaries have an opportunity to join a top quality, 5-star Medicare health plan outside of the regular open enrollment period. They may enroll in a 5-star plan from now through November 30, 2014 instead of waiting for mid-October when the Annual Enrollment Period begins.

The Medicare Star Quality Rating system is a simple way to help consumers compare health plans. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services assigns Medicare health plans an overall star rating between 1 and 5 stars, with 5 being the highest for quality and service.

If you’d like to learn more about the Medicare Star Quality Ratings, see the infographic above for more 5-star facts (click for a larger view), or visit and for the latest news and information. Also, check out for health-related member videos.

Medicare evaluates plans based on a 5-star rating system. Star ratings are calculated each year and may change from one year to the next. Seniors and individuals with disabilities must meet applicable enrollment criteria and live where a 5-star plan is offered.

Connecting Health With Place

Artistic rendering of 11th Street Bridge Park courtesy of Ed Estes, Washington, DC Office of Planning

Artistic rendering of 11th Street Bridge Park courtesy of Ed Estes, Washington, DC Office of Planning

Editor’s Note:  We often write pieces on the Center for Total Health blog about how important our surroundings can be to our health.  We’ve covered passionate discussions around built environments, and we’ve highlighted success stories.  What we haven’t been able to capture so far is the process.  We have invited Scott Kratz, director of 11th Street Bridge Park – a newly launched project – to share with us some of his experiences as he takes this vision of a shared community space that supports health from concept to reality.  This is his first post with us.

Can your zip code determine your health? Epidemiologists tell us that place – where we live and work – is one of the greatest factors in health outcomes. Urban planning decisions afect people’s health. We know there is a strong link between regular physical activity and lowered risk of obesity and chronic diseases. But what if there is no safe place to play? What if one’s home is located in a food desert, as it has been for many residents in Washington, DC, without access to healthy meal choices?

Linking place and health is a key goal of the 11th Street Bridge Park – an innovative project in the nation’s capital to transform an old freeway bridge into a new civic space. As the 11th Street bridges across the Anacostia River have reached the end of their lifespan, the DC Office of Planning and a local non-profit, Building Bridges Across the River, will use part of the remaining infrastructure to build the 11th Street Bridge Park, a new park above the river.

We have led an extensive public outreach campaign asking local residents for their programming suggestions and have received many inspired ideas and wonderful support. The community has suggested innovative play spaces, urban agriculture, an environmental education center and kayak / canoe launches on the river below.

Community outreach continues with a brainstorming session on Tuesday, March 25 at Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Total Health with presentations by 11th Street Bridge Park’s team. All of these ideas will inform a nationwide design competition launched in March to imagine the new park.

But we need to be more than aspirational. We need results. To understand the ways that access to green space, farmers markets, planting festivals and kayak launches may improve health outcomes, we are implementing a Health Impact Assessment. This baseline data of residential health will enable a comparative analysis after the 11th Street Bridge Park opens in 2017/2018. If we’re successful, we can make a solid link between health and place — and build a bridge to a healthier Washington, DC.

A Healthy Beginning for Babies and Their Moms

CEX12d041Last week’s annual “Building a Healthier Future” Summit put on by the Partnership for a Healthier America provided an opportunity to highlight what many organizations across the country are doing to address the underlying causes of childhood obesity.

For Kaiser Permanente, that meant not only a chance to show that we could and did deliver on our commitment to the highest levels of exclusive breastfeeding within our hospitals, but also the opportunity to showcase how Kaiser Permanente is building upon those successes by rolling out a comprehensive “Healthy Beginnings” effort to address the health of mother and child throughout the first years of life.

Robert Riewerts, MD, regional chief of pediatrics for Southern California Permanente Medical Group and clinical lead for childhood obesity for Kaiser Permanente presented an overview of the Healthy Beginnings work at a breakout session at the Summit. We had the opportunity to interview Dr. Riewerts alongside Jocelyn Audelo, RN, senior consultant at Kaiser Permanente’s Care Management Institute who coordinates Kaiser Permanente’s interregional work around Healthy Beginnings.

CTH Blog: Why is Kaiser Permanente focused on supporting a program of “Healthy Beginnings?”

Dr. Robert Riewerts: As an integrated health care system, Kaiser Permanente has been very interested in providing the best support we can to breastfeeding mothers. In our system, we deliver nearly 90,000 babies each year, so we have an incredible opportunity to make an impact on the lives of those babies.

Childhood obesity is a serious problem in America, and we’ve learned from research and from the care of our own patients, that if we support breastfeeding effectively, we’re going to produce a population of children that start out healthy. With effective breastfeeding support, those babies will get the important nutrients they need as young babies and they’ll be more likely to be healthy children later on.

Jocelyn Audelo, RN: Pregnancy is also a critical time in the development of healthy habits. As a new family is coming into being, we have the opportunity as a health care system to help support some of the habits – like breastfeeding, healthy diet patterns, and plenty of movement – that can translate to a pattern of well being over time for a family.

CTH: What can you tell us about the recent research showing trends in obesity reduction in children age 2 – 5?

RR: There’s been a lot of excitement around the recent article in the in the Journal of the American Medical Association that showed a 43% reduction in obesity in early childhood, ages 2 – 5, range. This research gives us hope that the work that we’re doing is effectively reducing the rate of childhood obesity. One of the factors quoted in the article is the fact that early breastfeeding and the support of breastfeeding may be an effective reason why we are seeing this reduction in obesity.

Although we are hopeful that this is a trend for the future, we still have a whole lot of work to do. And Kaiser Permanente’s relationship with the Partnership for a Healthier America and our commitment to the Partnership represents a road that we will be staying the course on, in order to make greater progress in addressing childhood obesity.

CTH: What would a comprehensive Healthy Beginnings program look like?

JA: At Kaiser Permanente, we feel that there is an opportunity to broaden our approach beyond just breastfeeding in support of a healthy weight trajectory throughout life, that really has its beginning in the pregnancy and early childhood time frame. Healthy Beginnings is our Kaiser Permanente approach to support healthy weight, active living and good nutrition from the time before a woman becomes pregnant, throughout her pregnancy and throughout the early life of the child. Examples might include things like helping women to get healthy and fit before conceiving, supporting women and families in emotional and behavioral health, helping pregnant women to stop using tobacco and other harmful substances, and teaching how families can incorporate a pattern of healthy foods – with plenty of vegetables and fruits – for babies and young children.

RR: Kaiser Permanente has a wealth of employees involved in all sectors of health care. We want all of our physicians, our nursing staff, our doctors who are delivering babies and caring for mothers during pregnancy to be aware of the importance of breastfeeding and to really start that infant out on a good healthy lifestyle.

JA: We know there are lots of things that we can do clinically to support a healthy beginning, but we know it needs to be much bigger than that. It needs to involve our community partners, our built environment to support physical activity and good nutrition, and numerous areas that we need to continually develop capacity in.

Since we know that what happens during pregnancy and the early childhood timeframe is critically important for a life course of Total Health, we’re focusing intensely on this Healthy Beginnings work. We are very excited about the journey we’re on, to support women and children and their families on a trajectory of Total Health from the beginning.

The NO MORE Campaign Celebrates its First Year with More Support Than Ever

This week, the NO MORE campaign against domestic violence and sexual assault is celebrating its first anniversary.  The public awareness campaign has focused its efforts over its inaugural year on gaining support with Americans nationwide, sparking new conversations about these problems and moving this cause higher on the public agenda.

While domestic violence and sexual assault are historically two issues that corporations have shied away from addressing, this week, many major corporations pledged millions of dollars in new commitments.   You can read more about how these private sector organizations are showing their support in the official press release.

Earlier this week, advocacy groups and corporate leaders – including Jack Cochran, MD, executive director of The Permanente Federation, on behalf of Kaiser Permanente – met with White House officials, including representatives from the White House Council on Women and Girls, to discuss the important role that all stakeholders – including the private sector – can play in supporting domestic violence and sexual assault programs.

To learn more about how to support the work of local domestic violence and sexual assault prevention organizations or to participate in, “NO MORE Week” visit  You can check out the campaign on Facebook, or you can join the conversation on Twitter by following the hash tag #NOMOREweek.

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