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10 years after ‘For the Sake of All’ health report, lead author sees little change

Jason Purnell, president of the James S. McDonnell Foundation photographed on May 24, 2024.
Theo R. Welling
St. Louis Public Radio
Jason Purnell, president of the James S. McDonnell Foundation photographed on May 24, 2024.

It’s been 10 years since the “For the Sake of All” report shone light on St. Louis’ racial inequities in health, education and economic opportunity. In that time, the 80-page document has been referenced in multiple policy changes and utilized by the Ferguson Commission, which was formed after the 2014 killing of Michael Brown Jr. by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson.

Dr. Jason Purnell, the lead author of “For the Sake of All,” said despite the wide acclaim for the report’s findings, little has changed. In fact, he told St. Louis on the Air that in many ways things have gotten worse.

“In academic circles, there was growing awareness that these social, cultural and political factors were key to driving health outcomes. But the general public was not as aware of the fact that there's a 15-year gap between the life expectancy of the highest 1% in income versus the lowest 1% income for men … and a 10-year gap for women,” Purnell said. “And more than likely that gap has widened post-COVID. We've seen overall life expectancy drop, and we're probably one of the only advanced economies where we've seen a decline as precipitous as ours has been in the United States.”

In the decade since “For the Sake of All” was published, Purnell continued to dedicate his work to addressing racial inequities, including during his time as vice president of community health improvement at BJC HealthCare. He has been the president of the James S. McDonnell Foundation — the ninth-largest foundation in St. Louis — since February 2023, where he’s focused on tackling issues through financial support for efforts in St. Louis and north St. Louis County that align with “For the Sake of All” recommendations.

“When we did [the] report, there was no implementation … no resources set aside for that,” Purnell said. “Part of what we're trying to address now [at James S. McDonnell Foundation] is, ‘How do we organize the resources for funders and actors throughout the region?’ to put some real infrastructure and some sophistication to actualizing equity, and not just talking about it.”

For more about Purnell’s efforts to address issues illuminated by “For the Sake of All” report, including some of the organizations James S. McDonnell Foundation is supporting, listen to St. Louis on the Air on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or YouTube, or click the play button below.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is produced by Ulaa Kuziez, Miya Norfleet, Emily Woodbury, Danny Wicentowski, Elaine Cha and Alex Heuer. Roshae Hemmings is our production assistant. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Miya Norfleet