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Health foundation geared for change

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By Todd Cohen

GREENSBORO, N.C. — YMCA of Greensboro plans to form a community-wide coalition to address the problem of obesity, starting with an effort to raise awareness that features a competition among the mayors of Guilford County’s 11 municipalities to lose 10 pounds each in 10 weeks.

And the Guilford County Substance Abuse Coalition, a two-year-old effort to coordinate the work of all local agencies working to prevent or treat substance abuse, has identified a critical need for long-term treatment programs and spurred its member agencies to work together, expand their services, and try to avoid duplicating their programs.

Both initiatives are funded by the Moses Cone-Wesley Long Community Health Foundation and reflect its increasing focus on strategic grantmaking that targets critical health issues in the region.

Now, with its president set to retire in June, the foundation has adopted an “outcome-focused” strategy to make its funding even more effective.

“We’re going to spend more time concerned with what people produce in terms of end results and less time on how to get them” says Bob Newton, former chief financial officer for the Moses Cone Health System who has headed the foundation since it was formed through the October 1997 merger of Moses Cone and Wesley Long Community Hospital.

That new funding strategy will create challenges for groups seeking grants, and the foundation plans to help them understand the strategy, Newton says.

“They’re going to have a little bit of a tough time committing to the outcome we’re looking for, and not worrying so much about how they get there,” he says. “We’re going to have to say ‘no’ a little more often than we used to.”

With $128 million in its investment portfolio, the foundation has made $40 million in grants over 10 years, and makes roughly $5 million to $6 million in grants a year.

It makes grants in the fall and spring, and focuses them on improving wellness, through health promotion and disease prevention, and improving access to health care.

The foundation’s wellness priorities include fighting obesity through physical activity and nutrition; preventing and treating substance abuse; preventing tobacco use, particularly among youth; promoting responsible sexual behavior to reduce infant mortality, adolescent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, especially HIV and AIDS; and dealing with mental-health needs in the face of changes in the mental-health system.

“We are at the moment facing unintended, adverse consequences of mental-health reform,” an effort designed to “deinstitutionalize mental-health services and move people into their communities for services,” Newton says.

But the real agenda is to cut costs, leaving “large chunks of the population without services,” he says. “You wind up contracting with a private-provider community that is inadequately developed to meet the needs that exist.”

Recognizing that “the needs of this community far, far outrun the resources we have available,” Newton says, private funders are expected to set priorities, “and that means saying ‘no’ to some very worthwhile and needed initiatives.”

A big challenge for private funders, he says, is to find ways to stretch available funds and collaborate with one another and the public sector, a challenge made even tougher “because the public sector is not accustomed to pooling resources.”

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