Compassionate Care at the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations

We really love hearing about the idiosyncratic, well-defined grantmaking programs at different private foundations. Some of them are terrifically oddball, and sometimes comic in their specificity:
Perhaps a funder wants to cure a crazy-rare genetic disorder a family member has, or boost telepsychiatry in the Appalachians, or fund post-Sandy mental health programs in New Jersey.

I guess if you have piles of money and a philanthropic streak, you can dictate whatever damn cause you want it to go toward. Still, you can’t help but wonder sometimes what funders were thinking as they zeroed in on some esoteric corner of health philanthropy. 

Some initiatives make more sense than others, though, and although this one by the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations is a little quirky, we like it. It’s all about how advances in medical technology can actually interfere with quality patient care. Make that quality compassionate patient care.

Since the foundation’s modest beginnings in 1952, its healthcare giving has focused strictly on fostering “caring attitudes” among practitioners. Who knows why. There’s little biographical data on longtime Alcoa President Arthur Vining Davis himself, and nothing obvious in his past to motivate an interest in empathetic physicians. But there you are. Sometimes, what these old guys were interested in didn’t make a whole lot of sense.

But regardless of cause and effect, the foundation’s interest in compassionate care is a noble one. The foundation was instrumental in establishing hospice care throughout the United States from the 1970s through the 1990s, and its grantmaking interests still seem to be aligned with the spirit of that work.

In 2012, the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas received $200K for a project  titled “Improving the Patient Experience Through Enhanced Communication.” In 2013, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center at the Geisel School of Medicine received $200K for a program training medical students to involve very ill patients with their own care. And most recently, in 2014, the University of Washington School of Medicine received $200K for support of “PalliativeTalk,” a model for physician-led guidance through hard medical decisions for families.

The program is, and always has been, modest—it hands out grants between $20,000 and $200,000, between four and six per year, generally. But it’s doing something very specific that no one else is addressing: Communication between doctors and families. Patient-led treatment planning. Neat stuff.

Even if the dollar amounts in play aren’t huge, if your work fits the bill, it’s worth applying at the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations. Proposals are due November 1 and April1 every year