Partnering with the Community
Bringing in a Health Partner
To meet New York City’s requirement to include a health partner in its NORC program application, Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center approached two providers – one a hospital, the other a visiting nurse agency. Their question: What will you bring to the program?
After hearing presentations from both candidates, neighborhood center staff selected Roosevelt Hospital, the closest to Lincoln Square and the 911 responder for the community. Roosevelt saw its interests as establishing a stronger presence among its neighbors, serving them better, and generating more business for its home care agency. “The link was hard-wired,” said Anne Moses, then director of the hospital’s community health project. “I place a nurse in the center who brings referrals to the home care agency.”
But soon after the program began, Roosevelt decided to sell its home care agency. By then, Ms. Moses had become a committed champion, and she went in search of a new home within the hospital.
Her pitch was that becoming engaged with the NORC program was an appropriate way to extend the hospital’s core mission of improving the health of the community. The Department of Government and Community Affairs “got it” and agreed to take on the program. Moses also advocated its value as a way to:
- Create greater awareness of the hospital’s rich array of programs and services.
- Provide another point of entry into those programs.
- Identify recruits for clinical trials.
- Develop a client base for residency training programs.
- Cultivate a sense of loyalty to the hospital.
- Reduce hospital length of stay.
“In any partnership, there has to be value for both partners,” says Ms. Moses. “The NORC program has to figure out what the hospital will value.”
Reaching Out, Then Saying Thanks
Shortly after receiving city funds for the NORC program, Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center staff wrote to influential local political and business leaders urging them to attend the first planning meeting. Each letter named all the others who were invited, and said, in essence, “We have a unique opportunity to strengthen the lives of the people in this community, and we think each of you can bring something that will help to do that.”
Almost all of the invitees showed up, and many of them eventually signed on as members of the NORC Advisory Council, which continues to provide community input into the program. Participants include older residents, neighborhood center staff, members of the local business improvement district, public officials, and representatives of educational and not-for-profit agencies in the neighborhoods. About 40 people attend a typical quarterly meeting; minutes are distributed afterwards. “Everyone has a voice,” says Stephanie Pinder, executive director of the Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center. “People say what they need to say, and if they identify an issue, it becomes an item we deal with.”
Advisory Council members engage with the neighborhood center in different ways, and at different levels of intensity. Core partners, including representatives from Roosevelt Hospital and the New York City Housing Authority, are at the table for every meeting. So, too, are legislators looking to connect with their constituents and local Community Board members, who are unpaid city advisors involved in many quality-of-life issues. And some partners, such as representatives from the American Bible Society, attend regularly because they are interested in growing their involvement.
Other agency representatives are brought in only when issues relevant to their immediate mission are on the agenda. For example, after two seniors were killed crossing the street, the Advisory Council invited the non-profit organization Transportation Alternatives to explain the process for getting the city to change the timing of its traffic lights and reduce other crossing hazards.
What most of these partners have in common, says Ms. Pinder, is that their relationships with Lincoln Square Neighborhood Center began small. “You start with one thing and you build on that,” she says. “It can take years of cultivation.”
One way to cultivate loyalty is simply to say “thanks.” Ms. Pinder does that with handwritten notes, newsletter blurbs, profiles in the program’s annual report, and an awards luncheon. “Every opportunity you can take to thank someone, you just have to take,” she says. “Everything is meaningful. And then you grow it into something larger. ” Continued...