Healthy communities are as important as healthy lifestyles. Both need to be nurtured. 

So, Novant Health looks for ways to improve community health throughout the regions it serves.

There are a number of ways we reach underserved populations – people who might not ever make their way to a doctor’s office. One way is the annual team member giving campaign. Themed Giving. Serving. Together., this year’s campaign runs through the end of November. The 2019 campaign raised a record $1.29 million. In a year when COVID-19 and its economic fallout have devastated many families, Novant Health increased this year’s goal to $1.5 million.

“The need is greater this year,” said Katherine Caster, community engagement manager in Winston-Salem. “The inequities that existed in America’s healthcare system were exacerbated by COVID-19. We must do more.”

Employee donations support, among other things, community members through services at free clinics and fellow employees going through a financial crisis. Employees can earmark their donations for particular groups, including the United Way and the agencies it supports.

Corporate giving

Novant Health also has a separate corporate giving program which provides charitable contributions to nonprofit partners directly from Novant Health operating dollars. These funds are allocated each year among our giving priorities:

  • Health and human services (HHS), including access to healthcare.
  • Education, especially early childhood and workforce development.
  • Environment, which encompasses increasing access to food, safe housing and other neighborhood revitalization efforts.

Community organizations seeking help submit a proposal. Giving has been paused this year, but in non-COVID years, there’s a call for proposals three times a year. The first is for HHS, the second is for education and the third is for the environment.

“We have a robust vetting process that we’ve worked for several years to refine gaining feedback from our nonprofit partners,” said Laura Holby, director of community engagement for the greater Winston-Salem market. “Partners submit proposals requesting funding that range in size. We look at each objectively and use a cross-functional committee to review and approve. We’re looking for partners that are impactful, sustainable and have strong outcomes to improve health and upward mobility.

“We get many quality proposals, so it is a hard decision,” Holby said. “We want our funding to have an impact.” In Winston-Salem alone, Novant Health gave $1 million to community groups in 2019. Charlotte’s giving budget is the same.

Community partnerships

Novant Health also partners with nonprofits in the communities we serve to help their clients. Holby explains why: “We know we have a role to play in social determinants of health – access to care, access to healthy food, affordable housing.”

There is growing understanding across the country that social determinants – factors that affect where you live, work and grow and their resulting behaviors – impact 80% of a person’s health outcomes. Clinical care affects the remaining 20%.

Holby talks about Novant Health’s “responsibility to take care of our community and support its most vulnerable members.”

“Our core business may be treating and keeping patients well, however we do much more,” she said. “Not everyone has access to resources. Your destiny should not be defined by your ZIP code.”

Holby’s team funds projects “outside the hospital walls,” she said. “We want to partner with organizations that are doing things outside our core functions. We know we can move further, faster together.”

Crisis Assistance Ministry in Charlotte is one such organization. People come to Crisis Assistance Ministry – often on foot or by bus – to seek help with basic needs including emergency financial assistance for rent and utilities, clothing, household goods, furniture, beds, and appliances. “Our goal is to keep people housed,” said Adam Cline, Associate Director of Major Gifts for Crisis Assistance Ministry. “And Novant Health understands there’s more that people need once the emergency is addressed.”

One way Novant Health helps is with a volunteer breakfast ministry. “Many of our customers seeking financial assistance may have missed work and skipped a meal to be here,” Cline said. “To have volunteers from Novant serving meals while customers wait to see a caseworker provides both dignity and welcome relief.”

Novant Health’s  breakfast ministry and most other in-person volunteer efforts have been paused during COVID-19 but will pick back up again in 2021. “We’ve shifted the way we partner,” said Holby. “We’re looking at more virtual partnerships – small events we can attend, while masked – and COVID-appropriate volunteer opportunities, like no-contact meal delivery.”

There are too many Novant Health/Crisis Assistance Ministry partnerships to list, Cline said, but here are a few:

  • Teammates regularly volunteer in Crisis Assistance Ministry’s free store and furniture bank and provide much-needed clothing and household goods. Novant Health Lakeside Family Physicians collected about 600 coats for a coat drive last year.
  • Novant Health donated reusable, cloth masks early in the pandemic for staff, volunteers, and customers.
  • Prior to the pandemic, the One Charlotte Health Alliance (of which Novant Health is a member) was regularly sending a “health bus” to Crisis Assistance Ministry to provide blood pressure and cholesterol screenings and physician referrals.
  • “Novant does so much for our community,” Cline said. “And it starts at the top. From a Novant executive who served as our board chair, to those who come out on a Saturday to volunteer - it’s all meaningful.”

Novant Health’s community partners in Winston-Salem include Crisis Control Ministry , including the group’s free pharmacy; Forsyth Technical Community College (providing sonography equipment to the program and hiring sonographers who graduate from the program) and the Chamber of Commerce, including the Senior Academy. “We help high school seniors at risk of not graduating by showing them career opportunities available if they stay in school,” Holby said.

High school graduation rates may not ordinarily be the purview of a healthcare system. But educational attainment is linked to health and life expectancy.

“All needs are connected,” Cline said. “and Novant Health understands that stable housing is an important social determinant of heath.”

Top caption: Crisis Assistance Ministry provides free clothing, among many other services, to those who need it most.