The Promise of Opportunity

Johns Hopkins Medicine takes aim at poverty and unemployment.

Published in Dome - November 2015

Days after the civil unrest in April, Johns Hopkins Medicine leadership sent a survey to our faculty and staff. The survey had two questions. The first concerned the potential impact of the riots on Baltimore’s image. The second, more vital question: “What are the opportunities for Johns Hopkins?” In other words, what can we do to help the city we love and serve?

A consensus emerged: We need to apply our Johns Hopkins resources and ingenuity to address the vast gaps in our city between the haves and the have-nots. One person wrote, “If we can figure out how to bypass a brain aneurysm, we can figure out how to connect the ‘two Baltimores’ and make them one.”

It won’t be easy. In the city’s most distressed ZIP codes, 21202 and 21217, unemployment exceeds 20 percent, and more than 30 percent of residents live in poverty. That’s why Johns Hopkins has formed seven different task forces with diverse mandates but, ultimately, a single goal: strengthening families and whole neighborhoods by creating better opportunities for all.

Each task force is approaching the problem from a different angle. One is working to expand our already robust youth mentoring program. Another is exploring what we can do to promote the opening of new recreation centers, senior centers and other facilities. Others are focused on improving social support and access to health care. 

Of course, these groups are not making plans in isolation. We’ve had several sit-downs with community leaders and residents to hear about their top priorities and which existing programs we should support, rather than inventing new ones. One theme that has come up over and over in these conversations is that people want to work! They want satisfying careers, and they want to be role models for their children.

To that end, we have launched HopkinsLocal (see article, top right), which will direct more money into businesses that hire locally, putting paychecks in the pockets of the people who live in our neighborhoods. Through this program, we can use our economic leverage to move more people in our city toward a living wage.

This initiative is wholly consistent with our mission at Johns Hopkins Medicine. As hospitals develop strategies to improve population health, we must address the root causes of poor health, including poverty. Study upon study links poverty to higher rates of cancer, infant mortality, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and other conditions.

The inverse is true as well: Steady jobs improve physical and mental health. With secure work, people have access to health insurance, more nutritious food, stability, reduced stress and safer homes. So these targeted hiring and contracting programs are really in line with our mission.

To keep large numbers of people in our region healthy, it makes sense to keep them working. HopkinsLocal is just the beginning. We look forward to including you in our efforts to help solve some of the pressing issues that Baltimore residents face.

As seen in the 2016 Biennial Report. Learn more.