Ariella Herman

November 01, 2011

By Paul Feinberg

Lots of folks think they have the cure for the problems that beset the health care system in the United States. Ariella Herman, UCLA Anderson senior lecturer and research director of UCLA/Johnson & Johnson Health Care Institute (HCI), makes no such bold claim, but she does believe that health literacy - just knowing what to do during pregnancy, when a child is sick, or how to provide one's family with a healthy diet on a budget - is a low-cost dose of preventative medicine for the health care system.

Using research-supported methods, Dr. Herman and the HCI team (which is housed in UCLA Anderson's Harold and Pauline Price Center for Entrepreneurial studies) have developed a methodology and a series of low-literacy learning materials, manuals and protocols aimed at educating parents on range of health care topics.

HCI's approach is aimed at teachers, parents and children alike. Simplified multi-lingual handouts, ranging from prenatal education, common childhood illnesses, dental care and nutrition, ensure that every parent has an opportunity to understand and implement the lessons learned into their everyday lives.

The program has been enormously successful. In 2009, Institute for Healthcare Advancement, recognized that success and awarded Herman their Health Literacy Award. That same year, she was asked to present her findings in Brussels before the European Parliament, where she told those attending that "health literacy is surprisingly a challenge in developed countries, and what we have learned in the United States is applicable to Europe." To date, Herman estimates 50,000 families in the U.S. have benefited from HCI's work over the past decade.

Now, HCI is prepared to double that number and would like to do so in the next four years.

Making that expansion possible is a four million dollar grant awarded on September 14, 2011, by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families (ACF), Office of Head Start. The grant went to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) to operate the Office of Head Start National Center on Health. According to the official press release announcing the grant, "the Head Start National Center on Health will showcase evidence-based practices that ensure all Head Start and Early Head Start agencies have access to the same level of high-quality information, training and technical assistance in order to produce the best possible outcomes for children and families."

HCI partnered with the AAP on the grant, and as a result, $1.4 million, will go directly to HCI, enabling the program to expand its work.

"While it is true this grant will allow us to continue our work," Herman notes "that it is the recognition that health literacy should be embedded in any health promotion effort, that is the major milestone".

UCLA Anderson Senior Associate Dean Alfred E. Osborne, Jr., founder and faculty director of the Price Center, believes that the grant validates HCI's approach and methodology.

"These monies come at a time when our nation still seeks ways to improve health literacy and control health care costs. Ariella's message and methods are powerful in their simplicity. They provide families with the appropriate tools to empower them in their health decision making, and the net benefits will follow - not just for common childhood ailments, but also in nutrition to fight obesity and diabetes, oral health care and prenatal health education."

Herman concurs. "This is something really innovative. People often do not recognize the importance of health literacy so this coalition is important. We have partners that are renowned in the medical field, and coupled with the management tools we bring to the agencies, we enable the implementation of strong health education and prevention programs."

The new grant does not impact UCLA Anderson's long and productive relationship with Johnson & Johnson. J&J's financial support to this point and going forward in the future has allowed Herman and her team to conduct and publish the research that supports HCI's work and the various training modules. What the Department of Health and Human Services' grant does is allow Herman and the Price Center team to bring the programs rooted in the results of the research to more families.

Conrad Person, Director of Corporate Contribution at Johnson & Johnson, had this to say: "Health awareness is one thing, but the implementation of behavioral change in Head Start agencies and families is quite another. J&J is delighted with the impact and influence of Herman's research and are pleased to see this effort continued on a larger scale with the establishment of a National Center.

"We have trained 50,000 families so far and we want to get to 100,000 families in four years," said Herman. Johnson & Johnson allowed us to build the evidence based Health Care Institute model, and this grant will allow us to expand nationally much faster. We have a proven methodology and a team that is devoted."

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