The Health Foundation has long believed in the importance of increasing community health capacity—the ability of our region’s nonprofit organizations and health care systems to meet the needs of the people they serve. In 2020, the significance of that work became clearer than ever as resources, funding and support for health care and community-based organizations were severely strained by the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting economic crisis.
The Fellows Action Network (FAN), a group of more than 300 professionals from western and central New York who have graduated from the Health Leadership Fellows program, faced the same challenges many
other organizations did in 2020.
Before the pandemic began, Population Health Collaborative was awarded a grant from the Health Foundation to manage the FAN. Karen Hall, PHC’s Director of Programs, says that one of their first priorities was formalizing and enhancing the FAN’s steering committee and making sure it reflected the network as a whole.
“When we reached out to the network to recruit new steering committee members, we were very transparent about our commitment to bringing in a diverse group—in race, gender and geography,” says Karen. When summer 2020 brought critically important conversations around racial equity to the forefront, the FAN was no exception.
“In any of our virtual FAN meetups, the Black Lives Matter movement and the impact of racism were main points of discussion,” says Karen. “The FAN Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Justice committee organically came out of those conversations.”
The DEIJ committee’s mission is “to become a major influencer on issues of justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in the Fellows Advocacy Network in western and central New York in order to advocate for
continuous improvement in health and health care.”
Danise Wilson, a graduate of Cohort 9, Executive Director of the Erie Niagara Area Health Education Center, and co-chair of the FAN DEIJ committee, notes the importance of this work.
“In my work and personal life, I see how racial disparities impact the communities we serve,” says Danise. “We have the opportunity to develop the FAN membership, enabling them to recognize systemic inequities, be educated and empowered within their organizations, and create intentional decisions and policies to advance this work. DEIJ will better align FAN with the priorities of the communities we serve, helping to address social determinants and health disparities.”
The DEIJ committee hopes the long-term impact of their work will be measurable systemic change.
“We will be tracking how DEIJ-centered policies are developed and embedded in the organizations we serve,” says Karen. “In general, we have work policies about sick time, leave, all types of things—why don’t we have embedded policies about equity so it can become the norm?”