Dr. Dwayne Proctor, who has spent over a decade in various roles at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in New Jersey, is excited to be relocating to Missouri.
On March 18, the Missouri Foundation for Health announced that Proctor would be taking over as the President and CEO, effective May 3.
The Missouri Foundation for Health, as Proctor put it, is “in a unique position”: it’s an independent philanthropic foundation founded in 2000 using the funding generated from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Missouri’s conversion from nonprofit to for-profit status. They distribute, on average, $40-$50 million in grant funding per year in 84 counties in the state plus the City of St. Louis.
Proctor created a new definition of health equity for philanthropic purposes while working with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and is now bringing that definition to Missouri—a place where, he says, health equity can be reached in “10 to 12 years.”
He noted that in coming to Missouri he is not working with a blank slate—the Missouri Foundation for Health has had several notable successes in the past decade, including a collaboration with the RWJF: the Ferguson Commission Playbook, which illuminated the public health issues that contributed to the Ferguson uprising in 2014 and continue to contribute to inequity in the region.
“I know that we’re really, really interested in understanding more about the Black community here, and about how equitable approaches can be useful in the work that’s already going on here,” Proctor said. “I know I’m not starting from a blank slate, that the Missouri Foundation for Health has several successes under its belt, and so I just want to build on the platform of what’s there and understand more about what we can do.”
In 2005, Proctor was tapped by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to lead their efforts to reduce childhood obesity in the United States. Prior to this role, he was an assistant professor at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine, where he taught courses on medical communications.
During his period of work on childhood obesity, he and his colleagues defined health equity as follows: “Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. Achieving this requires removing obstacles to health—such as poverty and discrimination and their consequences.”
Health equity, according to Proctor, requires “being able to form partnerships and collaborations at the community level that are impactful in that they represent the community.” As such, he hopes to meet with community organizations, particularly in the Black community in St. Louis, to figure out how the Missouri Foundation for Health can distribute their resources more effectively.
“I understand that I am coming from somewhere else, so it may be best that I have folks who are local here to advise me as I get used to being here…I’m not coming in thinking I know how to fix things,” Proctor said. “I do not know how to fix things. I just know what I know from the experiences that we’ve had.”
In Missouri, Proctor is concerned about “substance use challenges” in rural areas “and access to quality care, especially for people who might be more isolated.” He also noted his desire to work on addiction care and firearm suicide prevention in urban areas.
However, he is also excited about Missouri’s role as a state that can be representative of the entire country in its challenges and its successes.
“What I’m really looking forward to [is that] Missouri’s in the…exact center of the country,” Proctor said. “The politics in Missouri represent the politics of the nation.”