July 25, 2024 




Stephen Isaacs is an attorney, writer-editor, and former professor of public health at Columbia University. A leading expert in both health policy and philanthropy, Mr. Isaacs is founding partner of Isaacs/Jellinek, a consulting company that specializes in advising U.S. foundations working in the health and social policy fields.

Mr. Isaacs has written extensively about health policy and public health. His book, The Consumer’s Legal Guide to Today’s Health Care: Your Medical Rights and How to Assert Them, was reviewed as “the single best guide to the health care system in print today” and “a remarkable and invaluable book.” He is currently working on a new book about U.S. health reform. Since 1997, Mr. Isaacs has been the editor of To Improve Health and Health Care: The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Anthology, a book series published annually that examines foundation-funded health programs and draws lessons from them. Among Mr. Isaacs’ other books are: Palliative Care, School Health Services and Programs, Tobacco Control Policy, Generalist Medicine and the U.S. Health Care System, Improving Population Health, Population Law and Policy, and Salud en América Latina: de la Reforma para Unos a la Reforma para Todos. His has written about health reform efforts in California, class as the ignored determinant of health, and the future of independent physician practice for the New England Journal of Medicine; about free clinics, the health care workforce, and health foundations for Health Affairs; about public health success stories for the American Prospect; and about childhood obesity for the American Journal of Public Health

As a partner in Isaacs/Jellinek, Mr. Isaacs has advised established foundations—such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Kellogg Foundation, and the California Endowment—and newer ones—such as the Physicians’ Foundation, the New York State Health Foundation, and the Ottumwa (Iowa) Regional Legacy Foundation, where he served as acting president. Mr. Isaacs has worked on both health issues (ranging from home- and community-based services for older people, childhood obesity, nursing, access to care, health insurance coverage for employees of small businesses, and health services for needy individuals) and management issues (such as how to set up and manage a foundation and evaluate its performance). He also served as an advisor to the State of Alaska health reform commission

Mr. Isaacs also serves as president of the Center for Health and Social Policy, an organization that works to improve health and the socio-economic factors that affect it. In that capacity, he has provided technical assistance on civil society, health policy, and reproductive health to governments and non-profit organizations worldwide.

Mr. Isaacs has a professional background in social-economic development, reproductive health, and human rights. Between 1981 and 1996, he was a professor of public health at Columbia University, where he taught health law and directed a major international program, the Development Law and Policy Program. At Columbia, he co-founded the International Women’s Rights Action Watch.

Prior to joining the Columbia University faculty, Mr. Isaacs directed program planning and evaluation at the International Planned Parenthood/Western Hemisphere Region, served as a program officer for the Agency for International Development in Thailand, and worked as an attorney in private practice. He was a member of the Steering Committee that organized the NGO Forum at the International Conference on Population and Development in 1994, and shortly before the conference, he organized an influential roundtable on ethics, population, and reproductive health (in 2010, he organized a panel on ethics and maternal mortality for the Women Deliver conference). He has served on committees and boards of numerous organizations, including the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development, the American Public Health Association, the Women’s Rights Project of Human Rights Watch, America’s Watch, and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Mr. Isaacs is a graduate of Brown University and Columbia Law School. He speaks French, Spanish, and Thai languages.


Dr. Jellinek was program vice president of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in Princeton, NJ, from 1991 until 2002. Trained in health policy and administration with a special focus on health economics, he joined the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation as a program officer in 1983. At the time that he left the Foundation in 2002, he oversaw a grant portfolio of $370-million.

While at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Dr. Jellinek developed and managed a wide range of complex national initiatives that have broken new conceptual ground and have had lasting national impact. Major achievements include:

  • Faith in Action, one of the largest programs in the history of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Since 1993, Faith in Action has launched over 1500 local interfaith coalitions throughout the nation to provide volunteer care and support to homebound elderly and disabled Americans.
  • Fighting Back, the largest-ever privately funded initiative to reduce demand for illegal drugs and alcohol in this country. The program, launched in 1989, has leveraged more than a billion dollars in federal grants to local substance abuse coalitions nationwide.
  • Conceptualization and support for Improving the Medicare Market, a 1996 Institute of Medicine Report that provided the basis for the current statutory patient protection provisions for Medicare managed care enrollees.
  • The Urban Health Initiative, a 10-year $65-million program designed to reach enough children to change the city-wide health statistics for Baltimore, Detroit, Oakland, Philadelphia, and Richmond.
  • The AIDS Health Services Program, which became the model for the Ryan White Emergency Care Act, a federal program that continues to provide hundreds of millions of dollars to community-based AIDS services providers nationwide.
  • Conceptualization and support for a landmark study by former Harvard president Derek Bok on the United States' performance in addressing its domestic priorities.

Dr. Jellinek has extensive experience working with foundations and foundation-funded non-profit organizations and was an active member of the Board of Directors of Grantmakers in Health from 1993-1999. Since 2003, as a partner in Isaacs/Jellinek, he has worked with national foundations such as the Commonwealth Fund, the WK Kellogg Foundation, the David and Lucille Packard Foundation, the Physicians Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, and the SCAN Foundation; regional foundations such as the California Endowment, the Foundation for a Healthy Kentucky, the Kansas Health Foundation, the New York State Health Foundation, and the Northwest Health Foundation; and local foundations such as the Greater Rochester Health Foundation, the Ottumwa Regional Legacy Foundation, and the South Florida Health Foundation. He has also assisted foundation-funded non-profit organizations ranging from Children's Futures in Trenton, NJ, to the Foraker Group in Anchorage, AK. An outstanding writer and facilitator, Dr. Jellinek's principal focus has been on helping foundations and their grantees to achieve the greatest possible impact with the resources available to them. Specific services have included strategy development and implementation, impact and performance assessment, program development and evaluation, board and staff development, and preparation of white papers, issue briefs, and other publications for professional, policy and general audiences.

He holds a doctorate in health policy and administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he was a Bush Fellow in child and family policy, and an undergraduate degree from the University of Pennsylvania . His prior work experience includes journalism and mental health. His articles have appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine, Issues in Science and Technology, Health Affairs, and other journals. He has authored several books about the importance of community and personal connections in people's lives, including "Promise to Mary" about the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation's Faith in Action program.

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