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Foster McGaw Prize winner harnesses power of community collaboration

March 22, 2013

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About 15years ago, Savannah, GA-based St. Joseph's/Candler committed itself to broad-based efforts to improve the health and well-being of itscommunity.

The faith-based health system, which serves more than 750,000 people in Georgia and South Carolina, has spearheaded many community partnerships and outreach programs that have increased access to care for uninsured residents, provided education to individuals and families to overcome poverty and improved basic life issues like housing and nutrition.

'We have always believed that external factors strongly influence good health, including safe and adequate housing, education, access to information and meaningful employment,' says Paul Hinchey, president and CEO of St.

Joseph's/Candler. 'What we have accomplished through our community outreach programs can be replicated anywhere in the country.' For its commitment to helping build a healthier community, St.

Joseph's/Candler was named the winner of the 2012 Foster G.

McGaw Prize for Excellence in Community Service. The AHA, its Health Research
& Educational Trust and the Baxter International Foundation sponsor the award, which will be presented to St.

Joseph's/Candler at the 2013 AHA Annual Membership Meeting on April 30 in Washington, DC.

Collaboration
is key. When the board of directors at St.

Joseph's/Candler decided the health system would make significant investments in improving community health, Hinchey knew developing partnerships with the community would be crucial to success.

'Collaboration is key,' says Hinchey, who has led the health system for nearly 20 years. 'By putting together a big collaboration you act as a clearinghouse for the people you are serving.' That collaboration now spans more than 100community partners, including many of Savannah's churches, universities and other organizations that have been influential in health improvement initiatives.

'Because of its stature and mission in the community, St.

Joseph's/Candler has the influence to draw others to joint projects to make a difference in the cornmuni­
ty,' says Sister Pat Baber, who leads the health system's clinic, health and community center.

Creating healthy environments.

St. Joseph's/Candler focuses on creating healthy environments to help residents reach their highest potential for health. For example, the health system's St. Mary's Community Center offers a preschool program, after-school tutoring, General Education Development (GED) test preparation, money management counseling and training in job skills to individuals and families from Savannah's poorest neighborhoods.

'We are firm believers that education is the best way out of poverty,' says Baber.

Through its Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program, the health system partners with the Internal Revenue Service and about 30 volunteers who help prepare taxes for low-income residents.

When the program started in 2002, volunteers helped file about 65 tax returns. Ten years later, the program helped file nearly 750 tax returns with a combined refund value of $1.5 million.

'For the working poor, tax season is better than Christmas,' Baber says.

Tackling Disparities. The health system opened its African-American Health information and Resource Center in 1999 to connect residents with health resources. The center, which served more than 15,000 people in the past year, provides computer and Internet access, tutoring programs, and health screenings and seminars.

'A lot of residents come into the center to improve their computer skills because they want to get a job, but when they leave the center they are much healthier because they also had the opportunity to participate in health-related services,' says Ella Williamson, the center's director.

The center also conducts professional puppet shows to help children develop good health habits and offers a 'living smart' fitness club for women. 'We started the exercise program in conjunction with the educational program because we want them to be able to put the information they are learning into action,' says Williamson, noting that about 300 women participate in the program per month.

Access to care. Increasing access to health services -especially for vulnerable populations­isparamount for St. Joseph's/Candler. In 2005, the health system launched St.

Mary's Health Center, which serves a predominantly African-American population in one of Savannah's poorest neighborhoods. The health center started as a two-morning-aweek triage and referral center staffed predominantly by volunteer nurses and students from Savannah's Armstrong Atlantic State University's Department of Nursing.

'St. Joseph's/Candler has been an unbelievable partner,' says Anita Nivens, a nursing professor at Armstrong Atlantic State University and one of the first volunteers at St. Mary's Health Center. 'Every time that we sort of run up against a brick wall and think where is the solution to this problem, the next thing you know St. Joseph's/Candler is there to help.' And that partnership is reciprocal. Nivens has helped secure two federal grants totaling nearly $3 million for St. Mary's Health Center that allowed it to add full-time nurse practitioners, a social worker, health educator and physician consultants.

St. Mary's Health Center now
serves more than 60,000 uninsured individuals providing free lab services, radiology, diagnostic testing, procedures, screenings and inpatient hospital stays, if necessary.

In addition to St. Mary's Health Center, St. Joseph's/Candler partnered with the Georgia Department of Community Health and Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church to launch the Good Samaritan Clinic in 2007.

The clinic provides free medical care and medical translation services to a largely Latino population - many of whom are uninsured.

The clinic, which has only two fulltime staff and almost 100 community volunteers, served more than 2,100 patients in 2011.

'Our partners are so invested,' says Baber. 'Some invest money, but a lot of them invest their time, their energy, their presence and their influence.'


April 5 is the deadline for applying for the 2013 Foster G. McGaw Prize for Excellence in Community Service. For information or an application, visit http://www.aha.org/foster. St. Joseph 's/Candler held a Jan. 23 press conference on the Foster McGa w prize. Watch it here.

By Pete Davis