Cara V. James, PhD, President and CEO, Grantmakers In Health
Michelle A. Larkin, Chair, Grantmakers in Health Board of Directors; Associate Executive Vice President, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Much has changed since Grantmakers In Health (GIH) last convened in 2019. Over the past three years, more than 1 million Americans have lost their lives due to COVID-19. Large cracks in our public health infrastructure, health care systems, and our safety net programs are apparent. In addition, pervasive inequities across all facets of society have increased. The country is divided, and this division continues to hamper our ability to address one of the greatest health challenges our modern world has ever faced. Much has also changed at GIH since 2019—GIH onboarded a new president and CEO in 2020, elected a new board chair, released a new strategic plan, and moved offices.
While much has changed, much remains the same. Health funders have stepped in to fill important gaps, continue to support innovative programs, and serve as conveners. Health funders have also worked in collaboration with other state and local entities to address community needs. To that end, GIH remains committed to helping health funders achieve health equity and ensure that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to achieve his, her, or their highest level of health. Our new strategic plan is an ambitious plan that deepens our commitment to achieving health equity, fosters multi-sector collaborations to support systemic change, and leverages GIH’s voice to advance programs and policies that promote better health for all.
We are forever changed by the events of the past few years. We cannot undo the loss or ignore the inequities highlighted by the pandemic. We can only adapt, anticipate future challenges, and prepare for them as best we can. For 40 years, that is what GIH has done, and what we will continue to do. Whether it has been responding to the HIV and AIDS epidemic, supporting implementation of the Affordable Care Act, addressing the social determinants of health, or other health challenges, GIH has helped health funders realize their goals. As we emerge from dealing with the immediacy of the pandemic, we are focusing on the future and preparing for the work ahead to ensure that everyone has the resources necessary to achieve their highest level of well-being.
Soon, we will be gathering in Florida for our first in-person conference since 2019. We will also convene virtually for those who cannot make it to Miami. The 2022 Annual Conference on Health Philanthropy comes at a pivotal moment in our country. For all of us committed to health, a return to policies and practices designed to ostracize and alienate diverse communities that reverse progress towards a more just and equitable society for all is distressing and unacceptable. As we approach the end of Pride Month, we find several states limiting access to treatment for transgender youth, prohibiting transgender youth from participating in sports, and banning books and discussion of different kinds of families, sexuality, and gender identity in schools. We have also seen an increase in violence against members of the LGBTQ+ community during Pride Month. The weeks leading up to Juneteenth saw unspeakable racial violence perpetuated against a community in Buffalo, which represents a continuation of racially motivated attacks too numerous to accurately track across the nation. The mental and behavioral health implications of these actions are far-reaching and long-lasting. To make matters worse, the Supreme Court is poised to drastically alter access to reproductive health services for women, which we know will disproportionately impact low-income women and women of color.
The conference will highlight many pressing issues such as climate change, the youth mental and behavioral health crisis, the myriad ways inequities manifest themselves throughout our society, gun violence, food security, LGBTQ+ health, and provider burnout. We will also be addressing philanthropy’s role in addressing these pressing challenges through trustee programming; networking sessions on specific topics or for people with different organizational roles; workshops on how to build community power; and a strategy session focused on advancing LGBTQ+ health.
The conference offers an opportunity for us to reconnect with colleagues we may not have seen or spoken with since the pandemic started. It is also a chance to re-engage with GIH through our new strategic plan, and through focus groups that will inform our future programming, including work in areas such as policy and advocacy. Finally, the conference provides an opportunity to recognize and support the people and organizations working to achieve better health for all in Florida through local site visits. Whether you are participating in-person or virtually, the conference has much to offer.
The road to better health and well-being for all is long. It includes many twists and turns. We at GIH are proud to work alongside you for a better future. A future where inequities in health no longer exist, everyone is treated with dignity, and systemic policies and practices apply equitably to all.
We hope you will leave the conference armed with tools and strategies to address the challenges ahead of us, reconnected to and supported by colleagues working on similar issues, and fortified for the future.
We look forward to seeing you!