Rodney Lyn claims that his 2014 New Connections grant allowed him to “step back from my work and reconnect with my long-standing interests in equity, disparities and equal opportunity.”
Having spent much of his career focused on obesity prevention, Rodney leveraged his experiences examining community health systems to inform his New Connections research on health disparities in the South — a passion that runs deep.
“It is well-established that a significant proportion of the national burden of preventable morbidity and mortality is concentrated in the South, and especially among lower-income minority communities,” Rodney remarks, which he concludes makes him so aware of health disparities.
“Health disparities affect minority and underserved communities in a broad and holistic way,” Rodney explains. “We have to engage in research that considers the breadth of social determinants that drive health inequities.”
By taking an all-encompassing look at poverty, housing, educational outcomes, transportation, access to health care, job training, crime and safety, the criminal justice system, and other social determinants, Rodney hopes to foster a Culture of Health — whether it’s through implementing a corner store program offering healthy options or tailoring childhood obesity interventions for communities.
Rodney used his New Connections grant to investigate disparities in premature death in the South by looking at racially diverse, low-income communities. In his project, “Examining paradoxical outcomes in the County Health Rankings: A cross-case comparison of four communities in the South,” he used the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s County Health Rankings to identify counties that were performing better than expected based on their socio-demographic profile.
“You’d expect that low-resourced communities with significant minority populations would have poor health outcomes, but some actually have positive health outcomes,” Rodney explains. “I wanted to look at what was driving their resilience.”
Of the four communities he examined, two were high-performing and two were low-performing.
His preliminary findings show that “communities that are doing well have compensated for weaknesses in the system.” That is, these communities are working together to ensure adequate resources are available to support their health departments, EMS departments, transportation services, social services, county government, and more.
Through such partnerships, Rodney is suggesting that “the community’s vulnerable individuals have services and support, whether that’s transportation, proximity to emergency care, or no-cost/low-cost access to primary care.”
Another common theme for success is a strong, diverse, county-level leadership where all residents are represented, heard, and valued, thus allowing for identification and responsiveness to residents’ health needs.
As he puts it, “healthier, more equitable communities are focused on health interventions, but also on situating those interventions within a broader process that recognizes communities’ needs outside of the health sector.”