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Jefferson Regional Foundation Awards $1 Million Grant to Jefferson Hospital to Address Social Determinants of Health

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

JEFFERSON HILLS, Pa. – The Jefferson Regional Foundation today awarded the single-largest grant in its history to Allegheny Health Network’s (AHN) Jefferson Hospital.  The $1 million, 4-year grant will be used to establish the “Front Door Initiative for Social Emergency Medicine” at Jefferson – a comprehensive effort to better understand and address the social determinants of health among patients who visit the hospital’s emergency department.   

“Our experience tells us that frequent emergency department visits often have as much to do with challenges faced in a patient’s social environment as they do with underlying medical issues,” said Cynthia Hundorfean, AHN President and CEO.  “At AHN, we believe in a holistic approach to improving the health of our patients and communities. This incredibly generous grant from the Jefferson Regional Foundation will better enable us to fulfill that promise for the residents of Jefferson Hills and the surrounding area.”   

Louise Urban, the President and CEO of Jefferson Hospital, said the initiative’s name is appropriate given the important role emergency departments play at community hospitals.

“The emergency department often serves as the front door to the hospital; it is the initial experience many patients may have with us,” Urban explained. “But serving our patients can, and should, mean more than just treating their acute health care needs and sending them home. We want to better understand what may be influencing their health and what further steps can be taken to improve it. Are they exiting our doors properly positioned to get better, to stay well? This program will help us to more clearly see the whole picture so that we can direct patients to the resources that may help prevent the need for an emergency room visit in the future.”

Formed five years ago, the Jefferson Regional Foundation focuses its grantmaking on three priorities: increasing health access and prevention, improving child and family outcomes, and strengthening vulnerable populations and communities in the South Hills and lower Mon Valley.  The foundation has now awarded nearly $9 million to 73 organizations for local grants that support its mission. 

“Through the work we have done with dozens of organizations throughout the South Hills and lower Mon Valley, we continue to learn about the challenges faced by many in our area,” said Mary Phan-Gruber, Executive Director, Jefferson Regional Foundation. “Those include many potential social determinants of health, such as mental health, addiction, homelessness, domestic violence, food insecurity, limited access to transportation or language interpretation, caregiving challenges, and a host of other issues. People facing these problems often end up at the emergency department.

“Jefferson’s emergency department sees more than 50,000 patients a year,” she added. “The Front Door Initiative will help give the emergency department staff the tools they need to better understand why many of those patients are there.  And, it will help the hospital work with the Foundation to strengthen partnerships with those key community resources that can help to coordinate the proper support outside of the hospital. ”   

In particular, Jefferson Hospital will apply the grant toward: extensive assessment of community needs related to its emergency services; identification of model practices for social emergency medicine; working with community partners on the development of a Front Door vision and plan; implementation of a strong data system; educational interventions for staff; development of an integrated support network and ensuring patients are properly connected to it.

The launch of the program comes as Jefferson Hospital is in the midst of a $21 million emergency department expansion and renovation project. Expected to be completed in 2019, the project includes a complete renovation and significant expansion of the facility that will increase by a third the number of treatment and observation beds.

Richard Sullivan, MD, Director of Jefferson’s Department of Emergency Medicine, said the timing of the Front Door Initiative as the hospital improves its emergency department is no coincidence.

“The ongoing construction project will enhance our ability to provide high-quality emergency care to the thousands of people who come through our doors every year,” said Dr. Sullivan. “And the Front Door Initiative will help us better identify and intervene on the social determinants of health that, unfortunately, may otherwise be overlooked in this population. The two go together very well.”

AHN’s Office of Development also expressed its gratitude for the Foundation’s continued support of AHN.

“We are grateful to the Jefferson Regional Foundation for their philanthropic investment in Jefferson Hospital and AHN,” said Allie Quick, Chief Philanthropy Officer, AHN. “They are true partners, and through this collaboration, they are helping AHN to once again reach outside hospital walls to interact with residents in the region on a deeper level. It is an honor to work alongside the Foundation to further our mission of improving health and promoting wellness in our communities, one person at a time.”

The Front Door Initiative is not the only program in place at Jefferson Hospital supported by the Foundation aimed at addressing the social determinants of health. The Foundation already is funding a project at Jefferson Hospital through the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank to pilot the distribution of medically tailored food boxes for food insecure patients.

AHN and Highmark have other programs in place across the Network to address the social determinants of health, including the AHN Healthy Food Center, which opened its doors on the campus of West Penn Hospital earlier this year as a first-of-its-kind-in-the-region “food pharmacy.” Here, patients who lack access to food can receive nutritious food items, education on disease-specific diets, and additional services for other social challenges they might face.

Additionally, late last year, Highmark was among a handful of local organizations that matched a $250,000 award from the BUILD Health Challenge, a national program that leverages multiple community partnerships in order to improve public health. Allegheny General Hospital (AGH), Highmark, and other groups are working together to implement innovative solutions to the health challenges faced by residents of Pittsburgh’s Northside community.