Memorial Health System in South Bend, Ind., allocates 10% of its operating profits each year to a fund for community outreach programs, believing that the system's role extends beyond treating patients who are sick, to helping patients stay well.
"Health is not simply an absence of physical disease or a product of the medical community alone, but a physical, mental, and emotional quality of life that is influenced by factors as diverse as education, habitat, economic opportunity, social standing, the environment, crime and literacy," according to Memorial Health's Web site: www.qualityoflife.org.
Memorial Health's programs promoting that philosophy run the gamut from the 15,000-square-foot HealthWorks! Kids Museum, where children learn about health issues through interactive exhibits, to a summer camp for children with sickle-cell anemia.
"We look to get involved in never-been-tried approaches," says Phillip Newbold, president and chief executive officer of Memorial Health Foundation, which includes not-for-profit 405-bed Memorial Hospital of South Bend, four immediate-care centers, a family-practice clinic, home-care services as well as a number of other facilities.
The foundation develops programs in conjunction with other community groups, such as school districts and homeless shelters, and believes funding shouldn't be a primary concern. Good projects will attract funding, Newbold says.
Memorial Health is one of more than 1,400 hospitals and healthcare systems involved in community health projects via VHA and Health Foundation, Irving, Texas. The foundation was launched in 1998 as a public, not-for-profit organization. At the time, VHA pledged to donate $10 million to the foundation during a five-year period, beginning in 1998. Although a charitable organization had been in place at VHA, also based in Irving, since the mid-1980s, it had been dormant because of a lack of commitment of time and resources as well as a specific focus, says Linda DeWolf, the VHA foundation's vice president.
Today the foundation's funding is split between operating expenses and an endowment. The foundation averages about $1 million annually in support from outside organizations, says Daniel Bourque, its president.
The foundation supports the development and replication of hospital partnerships that improve the health of the communities they serve.
"The VHA Health Foundation's whole purpose is to further both individual and community health and innovation and research," Bourque says. The foundation divides its work into three areas: aid to hospital employees who are victims of natural disasters; research and demonstration projects related to key health issues such as patient safety and workforce development; and community outreach efforts that support youth development.
"We think these issues are huge," Bourque says. "What we need to do is develop some core competencies and track records in these areas."
Through a disaster-relief fund, the foundation donates money to employees of VHA hospitals to help them overcome the ravages of natural disasters. Employees of Memorial Hermann Healthcare System in Houston, for example, received $590,000 after severe flooding last year destroyed homes and businesses. The foundation raises money for the disaster fund from VHA hospitals and staff, VHA suppliers and others. Individual hospitals distribute the money to their employees.
VHA ran the disaster-relief effort from 1992 to 1999. Since then, the foundation has administered the fund. Since 1992, the disaster-relief effort has distributed more than $3 million to more than 5,000 families, DeWolf says.
In the area of patient safety and workforce development, the foundation is in the midst of an 18-month demonstration program, funded by a $285,000 grant from the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation to create multiprovider career ladders in the healthcare sector. The ladders will provide an opportunity for hospital employees to advance their careers among healthcare organizations. Three sites, with leadership from local healthcare organizations including HealthEast,cq St. Paul, Minn., MedStar Health,cq Columbia, Md., and Sutter Health, Sacramento, Calif., are developing their career ladder vision and design.
"The thought is that employment and health are communitywide issues, not just employer-specific issues," DeWolf says.
A report summarizing the results of the three pilot projects is scheduled to be released in 2003.
Using an earlier $117,000cq grant from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, VHA Health Foundation funded a 15-month study of successful welfare-to-work programs that moves individuals into healthcare jobs at nine hospital systems: Allina Health System, Minneapolis,; Henry Ford Health System, Detroit; Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore; Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Chicago; Partners HealthCare Systemcq, Boston; Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospitalcq, Albany, Ga.; Sutter Health; and TMC HealthCare, Tucson, Ariz.
The VHA foundation's work to improve the health and qualify of life of children and teens led it in 1997 to become a charter member of America's Promise-The Alliance for Youth, Alexandria, Va., which retired Gen. Colin Powell, now U.S. secretary of state, created in 1997. The foundation encourages hospitals to partner with local school districts and other organizations to develop programs for youth.
During its first, three-year commitment to America's Promise, the foundation promoted the development or expansion of 1,179 hospital- and school-linked programs, ranging from publishing directories of community resources for youth to school-based health centers.
In 2001, the foundation developed the Health System/Hospital of Promise Designation. To become a Health System/Hospital of Promise, institutions must show that they support programs in the five areas that America's Promise touts as the elements required to nurture strong, responsible youths: ongoing relationships between youths and adults; a safe place with structured activities for youths during nonschool hours; healthy lifestyle habits; marketable skills via educational programs that support this; and community service opportunities.
Memorial Health System jumped at the opportunity to become a Health System/Hospital of Promise. "We do an awful lot of different initiatives in the community," Newbold says. Memorial Health's application to America's Promise last year listed 20 programs, says Margo DeMont, executive director of community health enhancement at the system.
HealthWorks! Kids' Museum, for example, was the result of years of planning and fund raising on the part of the hospital. The hospital contributed about half of the $5 million cost of the museum, while the rest came from other donors.
HealthWorks! employs an interactive approach to make learning healthy habits fun. Children can climb a Skin Crawl Wall, a magnification of one-square-inch of skin, to learn about how their skin protects them from germs. All About Me is an interactive computer exhibit in which children answer questions about themselves or about a lesson they are working on at school.
Another example of Memorial Health's efforts is a three-day, overnight summer camp for children with sickle-cell anemia. The children are involved in the variety of camp sports, games and crafts. The big difference is the presence of highly trained nurses and physicians.
The system also offers a program for homeless families in South Bend called Play, Exploration and Developmental Support. Occupational therapists teach homeless mothers how to use playing, reading and other activities to encourage brain development in their young children, up to age 3. The children have developmental delays in speech, cognitive, social or motor skills.
Such programs are just a few examples hospital-sponsored initiatives that are making a difference in community health. The VHA Health Foundation's access to such programs is a primary factor driving the foundation's success in attracting grants and sponsors. Says the VHA Health Foundation's Bourque, "Our biggest asset is our relationship with providers. Why would a funder want to work with VHA? One of the reasons is the 1,400 acute-care hospitals that we are associated with."