Health funders urged to target underserved

Health-care funding
Health-care funding

While social factors like geography, poverty and literacy rates have a greater combined impact on health outcomes in the U.S. than do disease, injury or mortality, the needs of underserved communities are the top priority of less than a third of 880 foundations and institutional grantmakers that give billions of dollars for health-related causes in the U.S., a new report says.

Only 28 percent of 363 foundations that that gave at least $1 million on average in domestic health grants from 2007 to 2008 dedicated at least half their grantmaking for the intended benefit of underserved communities, and only 7 percent designated at least a fourth of their grantmaking for systemic change, says Towards Transformative Change in Health Care, a report from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy.

“If improving the health of our national is important to philanthropy, then we have to focus more on the needs of the most underserved and on making these communities integral participants in systemic reform efforts,” Aaron Dorfman, the group’s executive director, says in a statement. “We can’t wait for health reform to slowly trickle down, especially given the uncertainty of the current political climate.”

The report recommends that health funders allocate at least half their grant dollars to benefit underserved communities and at least a fourth for advocacy, community organizing and civic engagement that promote long-term systemic improvement.

Among the 880 foundations analyzed, the report identifies 22 grantmakers that exceeded both recommended levels of support, including The California Endowment, The California Wellness Foundation, Colorado Trust, Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Carolina Foundation, and Quantum Foundation.

Based on a system from the Foundation Center, the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy says “marginalized communities” include but are not limited to that that are economically disadvantaged; women and girls; people with HIV/AIDS; people with disabilities; aging, elderly and senior citizens; immigrants and refugees; victims of crime or abuse; offenders and ex-offenders; and LGBTQ citizens.

The report says foundations should seize the opportunity provided by the Affordable Care Act passed a year ago to address some of the toughest health problems in the U.S., including obesity, diabetes and other chronic diseases, by focusing on health and significant social factors for all communities’ well-being that can reduce the need for costly medical interventions.

Funders, for example, should aim to improve the effectiveness of their health grantmaking by teaming with other foundations, government and advocacy groups, and by launching “place-based” work in their communities.

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