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Dr. Paul Winchester is the director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Franciscan Health Hospital in Indianapolis, IN and a Co-Principal Investigator of HHRA’s flagship project The Heartland Study.

Archived Blog Posts
  • HHRA Earns Highest Rating from Guidestar/Candid

    By Russell K. King, executive director I’m pleased to announce that the HHRA has earned the Candid Platinum Seal of Transparency for 2023 –an achievement earned by fewer than one percent of US-based nonprofits. The Candid Platinum Seal is the highest level of recognition offered by Candid (formerly known as GuideStar) and is awarded to organizations that meet the highest standards of transparency and accountability. It’s an achievement that’s doubly important for the HHRA. The Candid Platinum Seal demonstrates the HHRA’s commitment to transparency and accountability. Our board, staff, volunteers, and partners believe that by sharing our data, metrics, and strategic priorities with the public, we can build trust and confidence in our organization and our work. To earn the Candid Platinum Seal, non-profit organizations must meet a rigorous set of criteria, including providing complete and accurate information about their mission, programs, finances, and governance on the Candid website, and sharing strategic priorities and information about outcomes. So why is this doubly important for the HHRA?  It’s important for all nonprofit organizations seeking grants and donations because the Candid Platinum Seal is a globally recognized acknowledgement that can inspire a higher level of confidence in the organization among potential grantors and donors–thereby making them far more likely to give. For the HHRA, however, it’s also important because our mission is one that relies on our credibility.  For our work to make a difference in people’s lives, people have to trust our processes, our findings, and our recommendations. The Candid Platinum Seal will help tell the world that, indeed, the HHRA is to be trusted. The leadership of the HHRA has always put integrity of the science first, which sets the HHRA apart in en era awash in willful misinformation and pseudoscience. I’ve long been a fierce advocate for the integrity in science, science reporting, and health information, so I’m proud to carry the torch that’s been passed to me. The HHRA supports researchers willing to seek answers to controversial questions. Our alliance of doctors, researchers, policy experts, and communicators works to answer questions that the government and private sector are too often unable or unwilling to address.  Through it all, we adhere strictly to scientific and ethical best practices to keep our research above reproach. The Candid Platinum Seal is an echo of the values that form the heart of the HHRA.  Let’s wear it with pride as we move forward.

  • Russell King | Executive Director Greetings from the New Executive Director

    By Russell K. King, HHRA Executive Director But yield who will to their separation,My object in living is to uniteMy avocation and my vocationAs my two eyes make one in sight. Robert Frost’s sentiment rang in my ears as I considered adopting the HHRA’s mission as my own. Why, after more than 25 years as a nonprofit CEO, would I take on a challenge of this complexity? Typically, when evaluating a potential professional challenge, you compare the attributes and experiences needed with those you possess. If they align sufficiently, it’s a good omen. I’ve spent more than a decade leading nonprofit organization through transitions, including a foundation that funded scientific research and two associations of medical professionals. I’ve created two development programs and led four others. And I’ve shared my expertise in nonprofit governance and policy, communications, and servant leadership. This constellation of what HHRA needs and what I can offer suggested that this was the direction I should follow. But there was something more. That something echoed Frost’s lines above: The chance to unite that which I enjoy, that which is most meaningful to me, with my work, thus uniting “my avocation and my vocation.” The two principles that have driven both my personal and professional lives have been: 1) we best find our way via the rigors and integrity of the scientific method, and 2) we create the richest meanings for our lives when we strive to help others. The HHRA, using science to improve and protect human health, rings both those bells with vigor. So here I am, eager to help the HHRA build on its illustrious beginnings and move to its next stage of development and growth. I will, of course, need your help. I won’t be shy about asking for it; please don’t be shy about offering it. This mission will require our collaboration, cooperation, and coordination. It will present moments in which we must support, encourage, and inspire each other. Worthy missions always do. For me, it’s the worthiness that matters most. Again, as Frost noted, we do this because it’s the right thing to do: Only where love and need are one,And the work is play for mortal stakes,Is the deed ever really doneFor Heaven and the future’s sakes.

  • A man spraying pesticides California’s Bold Plan to Transform Pest Management Systems is Long on Ambition and Light on Details

    By: Chuck Benbrook, HHRA ED By: Mark Lipson, HHRA Director of Policy and Regulatory Engagement We welcomed the invitation from California’s Department of Pesticide Regulation for members of the public to offer comments and guidance as the State begins to take concrete actions needed to achieve the goals set forth in the new report Sustainable Pest Management: A Roadmap for California. Reviewing the 94-page Roadmap report reminded us how many constituencies, forces, and factors are pushing and pulling farmers, pest managers, and government agencies in multiple directions that are rarely aligned. This Roadmap document describes a very different pest management future that will hopefully become the “de facto” way pests are managed on and off the farm by 2050. If successful by 2050, prevention-based biointensive Integrated Pest Management (bioIPM) will be the norm and there will be minimal if any use of high-risk “Priority Pesticides”. Some thirty-two years ago, DPR hired Chuck Benbrook to carry out a comprehensive evaluation of DPR’s programs and policies to assist in the integration of DPR into the newly-formed Cal-EPA. The resulting report, Challenge and Change: A Progressive Approach to Pesticide Regulation in California, came out in March of 1993. It provides dozens of recommendations intended to do many of the same things that the 2023 Roadmap report hopes to bring within reach. The fact that most pest management systems in California have become more, not less reliant on pesticides over the last 30 years suggests that DPR’s and CDFA’s efforts to achieve Roadmap goals are going to entail heavy lifting, mostly uphill. For this reason in HHRA’s comments, Mark and Chuck describe the nature and substantial scope of changes in laws and policy that will be required to track progress toward Roadmap goals and hopefully, someday, achieve them.

A Worried Doctor Takes Action for Our Babies

Apr 22nd, 2021
Dr. Paul Winchester is the director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at Franciscan Health Hospital in Indianapolis, IN and a Co-Principal Investigator of HHRA’s flagship project The Heartland Study.

There seemed to be too many sick babies in the hospital.

That’s what Dr. Paul Winchester observed when he started working as the director of the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) at Franciscan Health in Indianapolis in 2001.

Dr. Paul Winchester, Heartland Study Co-PI

Winchester had overseen hospital nurseries in many regions of the country before moving to Indiana. He had a good sense of how many troubled pregnancies and birth defects to expect in a given month in a community hospital.

But there in a hospital in the Heartland, he was overwhelmed at the numbers of babies needing medical care. And he was curious: Did Indiana have more birth defects than other states outside the Midwest?

The answer, he learned, was yes, some birth defect rates were higher in Indiana. His next question was why?

The answer to that question led Winchester to the many farms that sprawl across Indiana and the larger region of the U.S. Midwest. Several published scientific studies have demonstrated that women who conceive their children during the months in which agricultural chemicals are in high use are more likely to experience shorter pregnancies or give birth to smaller babies. A few studies have also detected a correlation between exposure to pesticides such as those used in agriculture and higher rates of some birth defects. (See this White Paper for a more detailed discussion of the trail of science Dr. Winchester followed.)

There is also evidence that exposure to these pesticides may carry forward across generations because of a biological process known as transgenerational epigenetic inheritance.

Winchester’s concerns and questions led him to join The Heartland Study team and its scientists and clinicians, working to determine whether or not rising use of herbicides negatively affects the health and development of children, possibly for generations to come.

At The Heartland Study team meeting in Indianapolis in 2019, Winchester gave The Heartland Study team a tour of the NICU at Franciscan Health Hospital, which was at capacity with babies needing intensive medical care. Seeing those little bodies fighting for a healthy start was an impactful moment.

Knowing that Dr. Winchester is there every day, walking those halls, keeps us humbled, driven and grounded in the roots of what The Heartland Study is about: protecting the health of families in the Midwest and beyond.

About The Heartland Study

HHRA’s flagship project, The Heartland Study, is the first-ever study to track heritable, epigenetic changes resulting from herbicide exposure in a human population. In our research, we will pioneer new, critically-needed methods to identify the impacts of prenatal and early life herbicide exposures.

Our hope is that we can generate knowledge that guides changes in the ways farmers control weeds by focusing new science on the most important outcome: healthy babies that develop normally and retain their full potential for productive and healthy lives. Learn more about our efforts and how you can support our mother-infant enrollments.

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