Awards recognize new leadership, proven solutions to policy problems

Five Californians will receive the 2011 James Irvine Foundation Leadership Awards for successfully addressing some of the state’s most difficult problems. Now in its sixth year, the awards celebrate extraordinary leaders who are applying innovative and effective solutions to significant state issues. The awards, including $125,000 for each recipient, aim to publicize proven solutions that can inform policymaking and better the lives of more Californians. See their stories and video profiles by clicking below.

Tim Carpenter

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve liked older people. I grew up in a large Irish Catholic family, and storytelling was like a competitive sport, played at the dinner table. Older people told better stories than younger people, so I ended up at that end of the table and I guess I never left.

I was still enjoying listening to older people’s stories about 15 years ago, when I walked into my first senior housing community and sat next to a resident who turned out to be a former chief salesman for Preston Tucker, the maverick automaker. After listening to his amazing life story for hours, I asked what he was doing now, and he said, “Tim, I’m dying here.”

I knew what he meant: the standard fare of doughnuts and bingo provided at that time by most retirement communities amounted to a starvation diet for mind, body and spirit. The chronic boredom associated with such routines has not only harmed the health of elders, as research studies show, but also entailed extra cost for the rest of us, when the seniors end up requiring costlier types of care.

All this helps explain why my talk with that one older gentleman helped inspire me to develop EngAGE, a pioneering, college-style array of programs for senior housing residents. Our nationally acclaimed nonprofit is now serving thousands of seniors in 20 retirement communities in Southern California, with waiting lists so long that unless we can speed up development, my own kids probably couldn’t get in.

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Dr. Judith Broder

About six years ago, I was preparing to retire. Starting to cut back on my clinical psychiatry practice, I was looking forward to spending more time with my grandchildren and traveling with my husband, Donald.

But then Donald and I happened to walk along the beach in Santa Monica, just as a veterans’ group was putting up hundreds of little white crosses in the sand, commemorating deaths of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. I gasped, stunned by the enormity of the losses. And then I started thinking about all the soldiers who have been returning home alive, and maybe physically well, but traumatized by all they have seen and endured.

As a therapist, I knew I had the tools to help, and also that I couldn’t ignore the need.

So rather than retire, I soon embarked on a new career, as the founder of a new nonprofit organization called The Soldiers Project, which provides free mental health care for veterans and their families.

Read more here.

See a video profile of Broder.

Dr. Steven Pantilat

When I was still in training, I met a patient who transformed my perspective of modern medicine without ever saying a word. She was a young mother who was dying of leukemia while the doctors who were training me gave her repeated blood transfusions, trying in vain to prolong her life even as they made it impossible for her to leave the hospital.

To my surprise, this young woman was never told the truth about her illness, which would at least have given her the choice of spending her last days at home with her two-year-old daughter. Her doctors focused on her blood count, rather than her quality of life or emotional well-being.

Sadly, as I’d learn, that patient was no exception. More than half of all Americans who die each year, including some 125,000 Californians, meet their ends in hospitals, where they often endure painful, costly and unwanted procedures. But I’m convinced society can and must do better for all people with serious illness.

I’ve since become an internist and researcher at the University of California, San Francisco, where for the past 12 years, I’ve championed a kind of medicine known as palliative care. This approach is aimed at restoring realism to doctor-patient relationships and keeping our focus where it should be: on relieving physical and emotional suffering and helping our patients have the best possible quality of life.

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Dori Rose Inda

In 2002, I founded the Watsonville Law Center to serve the local farm-worker community. For many years, workers have come to our office with heart-wrenching injuries: a hand amputated by machinery, a back broken falling from a tree. The hard-laboring men and women who grow fresh food for California tables endure physically grueling conditions and a high risk of accidents from heavy machinery and pesticide exposure.

California law guarantees all sick and injured workers medical care and financial support through the legally mandated workers’ compensation system. Yet many of the state’s 5 million low-wage workers lack access to the state-required care.

This is why, with committed community partners, I established the Agricultural Workers’ Access to Health Project. By providing education, medical treatment and legal services to agricultural and other low-wage workers, our program aims to help improve access to the medical treatment and financial aid that their employers are legally required to provide.

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Martha Ryan

In the late 1980s, I worked as a nurse in refugee camps in Uganda and Somalia, tending to some of the world’s poorest women. Then I moved back to San Francisco and was shocked by the poverty I discovered right here at home. What surprised me the most was to see pregnant women and children living in homeless shelters, or even making do on the streets.

I decided against returning to Africa, as I’d planned, and in 1989 I founded the Homeless Prenatal Program, an innovative social services center that has since helped thousands of mothers and children overcome poverty, addiction and homelessness.

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