In pursuit of health and equity for all

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.  Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”  -Martin Luther King Jr.

In the wake of the tragic events in Charlottesville this past week, we believe that hate and racism has no place in America, in Eastern WA, or in any healthy community.  It is in these key moments that all of us, whether individuals or organizations, need to express our values.  So that our neighbors and partners and children do not interpret our silence as agreement with those who act on hate.  

While we may not have any Confederate monuments to tear down, our community is sadly not immune to hateful action.   In the past year, Spokane headlines have included racist vandalism scrawled on the Martin Luther King childcare center, desecrating a Sikh temple being mistaken for Muslim, anti-Semitic and racist flyers posted multiple times on the Community Building, hateful words of “Get out!” spray painted on the garage of a refugee family, and hateful graffiti on the Salish School.  While the community and leadership have come together in support in each incident, we all go back to our busy lives the next day.  Never stopping to notice that what used to be a once a year headline is now nearly monthly - are hate crimes now normal in our community?

As non-profits with health missions, we believe that advancing healthy communities means advancing equity.  At our leadership team meeting this week, we asked the question:  it’s not if but when the next tragic incident happens either nationally or locally, and will we sit back and wait for it, or will we be proactive and do something to advance equity?  And if we are proactive, what does that mean?

Equity is integrated into our grant making, and our services.  We are challenging ourselves to ask tough questions and use an equity lens in our work. It's a journey.  For example in our Adverse Childhood Experiences work, we went in with a  broad "reduce suspensions for everyone goal" when at the time African American students were getting suspended at 3x the rate. That disparity has since almost been eliminated, thanks to significant attention and effort by Spokane Public Schools.  From that lesson we are now partnering with Catholic Charities to prevent children from entering foster care, with an explicit goal to reduce the disparity for Native American children. While these are great efforts, the current crisis demands fresh ideas and greater proactive action.

Ideas to be proactive include:  

  • Pilot grants to non-profit and grass roots organizations working towards equity in our community, such as NAACP, YWCA, and the Interfaith Council.
  • Convening a community conversation on how to discuss national events like Charlottesville, Orlando, Atlanta and Ferguson with your children or in the classroom.  
  • Grant investments to help county and city law enforcement to adopt best practice in identifying, tracking and prosecuting hate crimes.  Or other collaborations to meaningfully reduce hate crimes.
  • Having mental health experts on standby to work phone banks for people who are worried, hurt, angry or confused.

What are your thoughts?  We would love to hear from you.

Leveraging Resources for Greater Impact

From the Rural Health Information Hub by Kay Miller Temple

The Rural Health Care Coordination Network Partnership connects federal funders with local philanthropic organizations to help rural areas get the necessary funding they need to improve health in their communities. Learn more in Rural Health Philanthropy Partnership: Leveraging Public-Private Funds to Improve Health, in the Rural Monitor.

Empire Health, Catholic Charities team up to keep Spokane kids out of foster care

From The Spokesman-Review by Rachel Alexander

It’s no secret that kids placed in Washington’s foster care system often struggle later in life.

Statewide, fewer than half of children in foster care graduate from high school. Former foster children are more likely to end up in jail or homeless, and their rates of college attendance are in the single digits.

“There’s a lot of research now to support this fact that kids who go through foster care tend to end up with lifelong consequences,” said Nadine Van Stone, the vice president of crisis response and shelters at Catholic Charities.

After years of work, Empire Health Foundation believes it’s found a solution: keep those kids from entering foster care in the first place.

The foundation is partnering with Catholic Charities to open a new program called Rising Strong, which will offer support to parents in danger of losing their kids to the foster care system. It’s an all-encompassing program designed to help parents kick drug or alcohol addiction, which are the main contributors to losing custody.

“We also believe in the power of families to help each other,” said Mike Yeaton, chief strategy officer for Empire. “Often these parents, they don’t want to stay in an addictive life.”

A pilot program, focusing on 20 families, will start in October at the former site of the Sisters of the Holy Names of Jesus and Mary convent. Families will live together on-site and have access to mental health care, substance abuse treatment, parenting classes, work training, GED programs and more.

“The foster care entry rate in Spokane County has been significantly above the state average,” Yeaton said.

The system itself is overtaxed, and social services to keep families out of it are lacking, he said.

“If you can help those parents to restore their family functioning, that’s the best way to help those things,” he said.

Rising Strong is modeled on a similar program in Los Angeles called Exodus, which has a 90 percent success rate in keeping families together.

The goal is to eventually serve 50 families in one of the permanent supportive housing units Catholic Charities is building on the former convent site, Van Stone said. Families would live in an apartment on-site and receive ongoing support for roughly 12 to 18 months, though the length will depend on individual needs.

It’s estimated to cost about $1 million a year, which would be about $20,000 per family served. That’s significantly cheaper than the cost of court visits, arrests and other costs associated with keeping a child in foster care for a year, Yeaton said.

Funding has come from Providence Health Care and Premera Blue Cross, which announced a two-year, $175,000 grant this week. The team is looking into state and federal grants as well.

Empire has partnered with Washington State University to collect data on the pilot program and demonstrate its effectiveness, both in terms of family outcomes and cost savings.

Families will receive peer support and can come back to Rising Strong for services if they need them, Yeaton said.

“You are there for those families in the future too,” he said. “It’ll be a sustained involvement in these families’ lives.”

Spokane's Uninsured Population Is Dropping Dramatically

Check out the following article from our friends at the Community Indicators Initiative about the Spokane uninsured population dropping dramatically. EHF's own Brian Myers weighs in on the conversation with expert insight!