Four Ways the Philadelphia Health Partnership Addresses Disparities in Care and Well-Being

While large health legacy foundations like the California Endowment and Colorado Health Foundation get a lot of attention, many other funders of this type have more modest resources. But when they use their local connections and funds to take an upstream approach to health care—one that focuses on the social determinants of health—they can potentially make a significant impact in the lives of local underserved populations.

This is the main goal of the Philadelphia Health Partnership (PHP), a health legacy foundation formerly known as the First Hospital Foundation, which supports access to care and health equity in the Philadelphia region. As we’ve covered, PHP released a new strategic plan in 2017 that runs through 2023, and it seeks to address the underlying root causes to disparities in care and well-being—an approach we’ve now seen health philanthropies of all sizes adopt.

PHP Program Director Lauren Wechsler tells us the organization believes factors like "who we are, where we live, and how we make a living should not limit our chances” to pursue wellness. PHP works to support the underinsured and uninsured, and to reduce inequities based on factors like socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, age, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, environment and background.

As the name suggests, PHP is a big fan of partnering across sectors and believes collaboration can create better care for Philadelphians. It backs a variety of approaches through its overarching concentrations on children and families, and immigrants and refugees. From 1997 to 2017, it awarded more than $22 million through more than 550 grants, and in 2018, more than $950,000 went to 17 nonprofits. The recent grants illustrate how an equity-focused local funder like PHP supports programs for marginalized populations.

PHP currently has four strategic grantmaking initiatives. One is to create partnerships between medical and legal service providers, integrating public interest law services into health care settings. It backs Community Legal Services, the Legal Clinic for the Disabled and Philadelphia Legal Assistance, helping them bring lawyers into medical facilities to assist patients directly. Wechsler says medical-legal partnership (MLP) staff train doctors, nurses, social workers and other professionals to spot patients who have legal needs that can influence their health and refer them for assistance. Issues include health insurance access, benefits determinations, utility shut-offs, housing disputes, immigration and naturalization concerns, and wage claims. Connecting patients to nonprofit legal consultation and representation within health care settings exemplifies how funders can build bridges for constituents facing multiple challenges.

A second initiative for PHP is centered on children and families—specifically early childhood health and development. Wechsler explains that while Philadelphia has “experienced gains in health insurance coverage and access to care over the last several years,” significant childhood health disparities persist. We know that our first few years have a big impact on the rest of our lives, and as the research confirming this piles up, we see more funders concentrate on early childhood learning and wellness.

And PHP includes family support in its funding rather than treating children as isolated beings—another example of an upstream and holistic approach. The 2018 grants focus on causes and services like parental education delivered through home visits including “culturally- and linguistically-sensitive” programming, and advocacy for public policy solutions relating to youth health issues like lead poisoning and high-quality child care.

With about one in four city children in Philadelphia identified as either immigrants or U.S. natives with immigrant parents, PHP’s child and family focus is clearly linked to its immigrant and refugee initiative. In 2016, immigrants represented nearly 15 percent of all city residents. Wechsler says foreign-born residents, particularly those who are not citizens, struggle to successfully enter, navigate and use health care systems. PHP seeks to improve access routes and care experiences for these populations by supporting programming like peer-facilitated health education workshops for African and Caribbean women. In 2018, it also backed legal support, education and advocacy for migrant and immigrant workers, particularly in relation to workplace exploitation, forced labor and unsafe working conditions, which ties into its fourth initiative on “community voice and leadership.”

An example from the 2018 grantees is the Center for Advocacy for the Rights and Interests of the Elderly (CARIE), which provides education, consultation and advocacy service for older adults and their caregivers. CARIE offers phone-based advice, court accompaniment and advocacy for older Philadelphians, and more. Another grantee in this initiative is the Pennsylvania Health Access Network (PHAN), which specializes in health-related community organizing and advocacy.

We see overlap between these four initiatives, which makes sense, given PHP’s stance that issues relating to health are complex and intersecting. This community health funders’ grants range from $20,000 up to a two-year grant for $170,000. It does not have an open grant submission window or process; instead, it proactively awards grants on a rolling basis. To learn more about Philadelphia Health Partnership’s funding and philosophy, follow along with its latest news.