How Jefferson Health is harnessing philanthropy to address health disparities

In recent years, hospitals and health systems have launched programs or other initiatives to tackle health disparities, from outreach programs and education to recruiting a chief diversity officer.

Philadelphia-based Jefferson Health is no exception, with an approach centered on funding programs through philanthropy.

Jefferson established the Philadelphia Collaborative for Health Equity in 2017, with the goal of advancing health equity in and around the city via partnerships with residents, nonprofits and other relevant stakeholders.

Since then, some activity highlights of the collaborative include partnering with the Southeast Asian Mutual Assistance Associations to develop the Hansjörg Wyss Wellness Center in South Philadelphia, as well as awarding $600,000 in catalyst grants, through a Jefferson benefactor, to address mental health; trauma, safety and violence; housing; and built environment in the city.

Now the collaborative aims to raise $100 million by 2024 for health equity initiatives as part of Jefferson's $1 billion Reimagine Campaign.

Elizabeth Dale, EdD, executive vice president and chief advancement officer with the Jefferson Office of Institutional Advancement, told Becker's she is excited about the efforts being made. She discussed Jefferson's strategy for health equity fundraising, shared progress related to the health system's fundraising goal and passed along advice to her peers who are interested in health equity philanthropic efforts.

Editor's note: Responses were lightly edited for clarity and length. 

Question: What is the health system's strategy for raising funds for health equity?

Dr. Elizabeth Dale: Stephen Klasko, MD, who was president of Thomas Jefferson University and CEO of Jefferson Health, early on in his presidency said we could grow to multihospital network and be a multibillion-dollar organization, but he'd consider his tenure a failure if we do not address the health inequities in the city. Philadelphia is in top 10 largest cities, and we have a lifespan gap between ZIP codes of 20 years. So, my development team and I took that so seriously. Amid a $1 billion fundraising campaign, we said, "We're putting a stake in the ground, and we're so committed to health equity, we're going to set a goal of raising $100 million to address health inequities in the course of our Reimagine Campaign.” We're planning to conclude that campaign in 2024. We have been able to demonstrate to the board and leadership the impact philanthropy makes, with benefactors who have given us major gifts like $5 million from Andréa and Kenneth Frazier for the Frazier Family Coalition for Stroke Education and Prevention, a partnership between Jefferson Health and Philadelphia-based Temple Health.

Q: Jefferson set a goal to raise $100 million for health equity initiatives. How is this going?

ED: It's going extremely well. We've raised more than $45 million for a variety of initiatives, including creating the Hansjörg Wyss Wellness Center for refugees and immigrants. It's in the heart of the Southeast Asian refugee and immigrant community. During the pandemic, it saved and improved so many lives. Total fundraising is about $7 million on that project.

We decided to do this because we have one of the top refugee health programs in the U.S., and people were getting their primary care in the emergency room. Some of our philanthropic initiatives are rooted in also helping the health system operate more efficiently. By opening the wellness center, we were able to reduce total cost of care and improve preventative medicine. But what's unique is everything we do, we spend so much time talking to the community. Asking the community and getting input is fundamental to what we're doing.

Q: What advice do you have for other hospitals interested in health equity philanthropic efforts?

ED: My advice would be to get the commitment from the board and the president. When you have commitment at the top of the organization, it serves as a cohesive force in mobilizing. We have 18 hospitals, a two-campus university and an insurance plan. The board and president being fully committed is a game-changer in fulfilling a spirit of philanthropy on health inequity within the whole organization. Plus, it speaks well to all our benefactors.

Also, the Rippel Foundation, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, put us through 18 months of training and the philosophical understanding of how to raise money and how to develop a program in fundraising for health equity. Having a partner like the Rippel Foundation, we had to commit one Friday a month to go through a symposium and we had reading materials. And I'm fully committed to this work, but it gave me the language, tools to use in developing our program.

To learn more about the Philadelphia Collaborative for Health Equity, click here.

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