Greater Good Blog

Four More Ways Health Funders Can Target Unmet Needs

Melanie Torres and Anne Lebleu

Passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) created big expectations for improvements in health coverage and care among patients, health care providers, and funders alike. In a previous post, we outlined a few ways philanthropists have been working to meet those broad—and perhaps high—expectations. In this post, we share some additional thoughts based on our work with successful health funders and on trends we’re seeing in the field. We hope the following approaches may prove effective for other philanthropists seeking to drive impact in the changed (and changing) health care landscape.

Help to aggregate and disseminate consumer-friendly health data that will allow community members to make better, more informed choices about which providers to see, which insurance products to purchase, and which medical services to select. Philanthropists and impact investors can support social enterprises that tap various data sources to develop products and platforms that make those data accessible to consumers. Funders can also help to ensure that these products are developed with the needs of vulnerable populations in mind. For example, consumers comparing insurance options would benefit from knowing the average wait times for providers in each plan’s network and the proximity of specialists to their homes. These are simple pieces of information that can make a huge difference in patients’ ability to access timely and quality care.

The California Healthcare Foundation (CHF) is one funder working to make data more accessible. Arabella partnered with CHF as it was working on its “Free the Data” initiative, which (among other goals) seeks to urge entrepreneurs and developers to create tools to better access, analyze, and communicate health-related information. One of several products coming out of this initiative is the California Open Data Portal, which developers can now use to create mobile applications that address local health challenges. There are ample opportunities for other funders both to help open up data and to incent entrepreneurs and developers to create programs and applications that help consumers—especially those from the most vulnerable communities—make smart choices about their care.

Provide capacity-building funds to help nonprofits plan. Strategic business planning is necessary to stay relevant and financially sustainable in the shifting health care landscape. For example, nonprofits and community-based organizations need to understand how to participate in integrated care systems, which are becoming increasingly common post-ACA. To partner with these care systems, nonprofits will need to clearly articulate their value to the community and, in many cases, develop a business model that supports a fee-for-service payment structure (many nonprofits currently operate on a contract basis with providers). Nonprofits also need support in evaluating and communicating their impact, which is even more crucial in an increasingly competitive funding environment.

Support workforce development programs that help make hospital employees more resilient and employable in an era marked by a decreasing emphasis on hospital-based care. As inpatient admissions decline and more providers shift to community-based care models, funders can have impact by investing in training programs that teach hospital workers new skills and help them transition to other roles within the health sector. In many communities, hospitals are the largest employer; these programs could help prop up the workforces in areas that would be hit hard by the downsizing or closure of the local hospital.

Also crucial are programs that help medical staff build their cultural competencies. Such skills enable health care providers to work effectively with diverse patient populations, which can help reduce health disparities. Several of our foundation clients who care about reducing health disparities highlight workforce development as a key strategy.

Help fill the gap in mental and behavioral health services for young people by evaluating new methods for reaching at-risk populations. The medical system is doing a relatively good job of treating youths with physical illnesses, but many young people are not getting the essential behavioral health supports they need to live healthy and productive lives. Family foundations and individuals are often well positioned to serve as flexible and responsive investors in new models for providing this care. One funder we work with is helping to launch an innovation lab, called iThrive, that will focus on developing digital games and apps for adolescents that can be integrated with existing care models and that are designed to build self-awareness, self-esteem, and resilience while reducing anxiety and depression.

While the scope of needs within health and health care can at times be overwhelming for philanthropists, the new landscape also presents important opportunities for impact. What new approaches are you encountering in the field? What’s gaining traction? We welcome your comments below.

Melanie Torres is a senior director in Arabella’s New York office, where she provides strategy, evaluation, and project implementation consulting services to a variety of clients. Currently, she is working with a leading education grant maker to develop and implement a collaborative learning network to support K-12 education reform, and she is conducting a needs assessment for a funder focused on community health.

Anne Lebleu is a director in Arabella’s Washington, DC office, where she manages the philanthropic strategies and operations of Arabella’s family and individual clients and provides essential strategic grant-making knowledge and expertise. Currently, she oversees the daily operations and grant-making activities of a foundation focused on environmental health and green chemistry, and she is working with a family on developing a philanthropic strategy for barriers to K-12 education.

Back to Blog