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Gift enables Brown to establish healthy aging initiative

Brown University's Program in Public Health has received a gift from the Irene Diamond Fund to launch a major initiative on healthy aging. The program will work on identifying opportunities for preventive health interventions that can reduce care costs and improve the quality of life for older people. Through the initiative, Brown will work with the Rhode Island Department of Health and community health providers to develop, test, and disseminate successful interventions.

The gift, a 12.5-percent share of a residential building in New York City, will raise between an estimated $4 million and $7 million for Brown within the next few years after the building's likely sale.

"We are thrilled and grateful for this gift from the Diamond Fund for several reasons," said Terrie "Fox" Wetle, Brown's associate dean of medicine for public health. "It allows us to pursue a goal to expand public health and aging. Also, it allows us to enhance our valued partnership with the Rhode Island Department of Health, and it allows us to continue our work with the medical school in curriculum development relevant to population health."

People in the United States and around the world have been living longer, but not necessarily well, amid conditions such as cardiovascular disease and osteoporosis. By 2030, about 70 million Americans, or one-fifth of the population, will be 65 or older.

The Irene Diamond Fund Healthy Aging Initiative at Brown University will help support students and faculty who work on developing, testing, and disseminating preventive interventions, as well as fund innovations in the public health and medical curriculum so that more students can graduate with the knowledge needed to help the aging population. Financial resources will also help to recruit students interested in promoting aging health, Wetle said.

The Irene Diamond Fund has focused on aging in all of the gifts it recently announced as it winds down operations after decades of philanthropy. The share allocated to Brown is the only one awarded to an institution located outside of New York City. Other beneficiaries include Weill Cornell Medical College, the American Federation for Aging Research, and Columbia University.

The gift recognizes Brown's leadership in aging research and teaching. The co-directors of the Brown initiative, Wetle and Dr. Richard Besdine, are nationally known aging researchers who have served in prominent posts in the field. Wetle is a former deputy director of the National Institute on Aging, and Besdine is former first chief medical officer at the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

911 pilot program

Brown and the Rhode Island Department of Health are already moving forward on the first pilot project of the initiative, even before receiving income from the Diamond gift, Wetle said.

The project will focus on the hundreds of older people around the state who are frequent users of 911 and emergency departments, having made at least four such costly and harrowing trips in a year. The initiative will work with the Rhode Island Department of Health and community health centers to identify strategies for improving health and reducing expensive emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

A graduate student will be assigned to work with Department of Health staff members on the project.

As the income from the gift arrives, Wetle said, Brown will begin other such projects. Medical students, for example, will be funded to work with health care providers such as primary care physicians on implementing some of the preventive health ideas with patients.

"That's our 'collaboratory' model," Wetle said. "Identifying a public health problem for older people, identifying where we might do an effective and efficient intervention that involves preventive services, and promoting health overall. And there's a strong educational component."

From students to seniors, the initiative will aim to help everyone learn how to age more healthfully.


Contact: David Orenstein
Brown University

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