SF Gate: Google gives $3 million to Nadine Burke Harris and Bayview clinic
Nov 5, 2014
Google’s philanthropic arm will give $3 million to pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris’ Bayview clinic, which has earned international acclaim for its work linking the physical ailments of low-income children to their traumatic experiences.
The three-year grant is a boon for Burke Harris’ Center for Youth Wellness, which has a $5 million annual budget. The facility focuses on what is known as adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress — issues like neglect, abuse, exposure to violence and household dysfunction that can damage a child’s developing brain and body. Burke Harris said that 1 in 10 of the children she sees has experienced not just one of those traumas, but four or more.
Bet on intervention
The issue has been studied for more than a quarter century by researchers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and elsewhere, but has recently attracted more attention. Even though Burke Harris’ work has been lauded by former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton — who featured the doctor in a video for her Too Small to Fail philanthropic campaign last year — funders say it has been a challenge raising enough money to further test and expand the center’s work.
Google’s philanthropic branch is making the type of big-dollar bet that Silicon Valley entrepreneurs often place on nascent technologies.
“Where other funders may see it as an unproven, sort of relatively untested intervention, we’re excited to pilot those game-changing ideas that really can change the world,” said Justin Steele, who heads Bay Area giving for Google.org, which donates $20 million annually in the region. “This grant is built on science. If they prove that it works in Bayview, we’d love to see it scale up across the country.”
Burke Harris said the grant will enable her team to develop a clinical protocol to address toxic stress. That will be key to making the issue into something that insurance companies can understand — and cover. Now, insurers don’t.
“A lot of the things we’re trying to do — there’s no billing code,” Harris said. “What the Google gift allows us to do is really have the resources to hire the team and evaluate our outcomes and really try some of these novel approaches that would literally be impossible to do otherwise because this is not work that is reimbursed by insurance companies right now.”
The grant will also be used to help fund California’s first statewide summit on adverse childhood experiences, beginning Wednesday in San Francisco.
In a sign of the issue’s growing prominence, the “Children Can Thrive” conference will feature appearances by state Attorney General Kamala Harris, Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court Tani Gorre Cantil-Sakauye, and the state Secretary of Health and Human Services Diana Dooley, in addition to medical and childhood experts from around the state.
Neighborhood and health
“It is my goal to see this type of work spread across San Francisco,” said San Francisco Supervisor Malia Cohen, who represents Bayview.
For years in Bayview, Burke Harris has explored how a patient’s family and neighborhood affect his health.
Last week, she treated a family she has seen for years. The single mother of three had been beaten by the father of her children, sometimes in front of them. Later, a fire destroyed their apartment, leaving the family homeless. One child suffered from severe asthma and another had heart palpitations that doctors couldn’t figure out.
Initially, those physical ailments weren’t linked to the family’s trauma. Instead, when they would visit, “They would just say, 'The asthma is really bad again,’” Burke Harris said.
Then the center’s case manager found them stable housing and helped them access social services. Its staff explained to the family how stress affected the children. Within time, the mom saw the connection.
“Ultimately, she realized that it was her own depression after years of experiencing domestic violence that was affecting her kids’ health,” Burke Harris said. About a year ago, the mother began taking antidepressant medication and “literally, since that time we have not treated one severe asthma attack” and the youngest child’s heart palpitations have ceased.
Stress across demographics
The Google.org grant will “give us greater capacity to do that for more families,” Burke Harris said.
But toxic stress doesn’t just affect low-income families exposed to violence and homelessness, Burke Harris said. She likes to remind people that the initial major study on the issue was done in San Diego in 1998 “with a population that was 70 percent Caucasian and 70 percent college educated.”
“What we’ve seen since,” Harris said, “is that this issue cuts across all socioeconomic strata, all geographies.”
About Center for Youth Wellness The Center for Youth Wellness is part of a national effort to revolutionize pediatric medicine and transform the way society responds to kids exposed to significant adverse childhood experiences and toxic stress.
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