Novant foundation raises $4.7 million in six months for priority projects

Published 12:10 am Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Hospitals are where people turn when they are injured or unwell, relying on the medical staff to provide quality care. But community health is a much broader stroke, and hospitals need a little help meeting the wider range of needs of a community.

Enter Novant Health Rowan Medical Center Foundation, a local nonprofit that is part of the Novant Foundations, philanthropy organizations that support individual Novant medical centers.

Brian Canavan, chief philanthropy officer for the Rowan Foundation, took over two years ago from Rick Parker, who had been with the foundation for 30 years, and Canavan initially had “over 120 meetings just getting to know people, determining the needs and goals moving forward.” He noted the foundation had held incredible events surrounding the hospital, but Canavan said the future is about moving outside the hospital and addressing community health.

The first year of his tenure was spent on Team Care, taking care of the medical staff that had been through the wringer of COVID.

“That first year, we loved on the staff,” he said. “But then we began trying to establish other initiatives, and we ended up with five major ones.” Two important pieces of information came out of his meetings and his research: people believe young adults leave Rowan County in order to find careers because there are not opportunities here; and people are using the emergency room for medical care that should be addressed at the family doctor level but are not, because of transportation or location issues. Both were things Canavan wanted to address, but he also believed five major undertakings would be too much for the foundation to take on all at once.

“Typically we raise a million dollars a year,” he said. “And the cost of all five initiatives was about $4.7 million. By the time we established them, it was June, and we’d raised $200,000. So I met with the board of directors and asked them to prioritize.” To his shock, the board agreed they were ALL a priority, and set about figuring out a way to help the foundation meet that financial goal.

The board challenged him to raise $1.5 million additional dollars in leadership-level gifts, and determined that between the foundation and Novant corporate, any gift of $25,000 or more would be matched.

By December, the foundation had surpassed its goal of $4.7 million by $608, and all five initiatives are funded, at least to start.

And the first two directly address the idea that people have to leave Rowan County to have a career. The workforce initiative Bridges to Healthcare targets high-performing high school students from under-represented communities in Rowan County, offering paid health-care related internships for a year, beginning in the spring of a student’s junior year and ending in December of their senior year. This year, 10 students were selected, but Canavan is aiming for 20 next year.

“These kids are exposed to everything from food service to cardiology and everything in between,” he said. Students are paid a minimum wage of $17 an hour and the goal is to increase the number of skilled healthcare staff and give high school students a reason to come back to Rowan County to work.

The second workforce initiative is Upward Mobility, an RN scholarship program that is aimed at Certified Nurses Assistants (CNAs) that are living at or below the poverty line, often working two or three jobs to support a family. Participants receive up to two years of full tuition coverage at a community college with an accredited nursing program that leads to getting licensed as an RN, along with a reduced work schedule (with no reduction in pay) to allow participants time to study. They are also partnered with a nurse mentor.

“The other issue that kept coming up, and keeps coming up, is mental health, especially for children,” said Canavan. The Rowan Foundation was able to build on Brunswick County foundation’s pilot program with middle school children that made telehealth assessments available within minutes for a school referral, and the assessment can get a child into a program immediately, something that is not always easy for parents to accomplish. The program through the Rowan foundation will be available in every single school in Rowan County eventually, starting with public schools and eventually incorporating private schools.

“Within 15 minutes a child can be in a video teleconference with a psychiatrist who can then get the child either in-patient or out-patient care,” said Canavan. In addition, there is training to help teachers recognize what behavior constitutes a need for a referral. He praised Rowan-Salisbury Schools Superintendent Kelly Withers for her support of the program as well, and credited RSS board member Alisha Byrd-Clark with helping get the program in the schools.

To address the issue of mobility and access to health care that results in the sometimes unnecessary use of the emergency room, Canavan said the foundation came up with the Mobile Care Cruiser. Mobile health care will be able to deliver health care throughout the county, including to the most rural areas, in a partnership with the Community Care Clinic.

“The goal is to eliminate the barrier of transportation for getting health care,” said Canavan. “Issues like diabetes, hypertension and heart disease can be managed without going to the ER, and there is no cost to the taxpayer.”

The final initiative is an expansion of the cancer wellness program that will be in conjunction with the cardio-pulmonary wellness program. The cardio-pulmonary program has been moved out of the hospital, and this project will cover the cost of a build-out and upfit of a new state-of-the-art facility that will now incorporate cancer wellness. The cardio-pulmonary program has improved the survival of some patients by more than 50 percent, and Canavan said the goal is to have the same impact on cancer patients.

The hospital is not unaware of the benefits the foundation provides.

“On behalf of Novant Health Rowan Medical Center’s team members and patients, we are extremely grateful to the Novant Health Rowan Medical Center Foundation and its donors,” said President and COO of Novant Health Rowan Medical Center Gary Blabon. “Their ongoing support allows us to expand community health work, launch programs that expand access to care and create opportunities for our next generation of health care workers. Every day our teams see the barriers that many in our community face, including even the lack of transportation to visit us, but funds from the Novant Health Rowan Medical Center Foundation help reduce those barriers so that all of our neighbors in Rowan County receive the care and treatments they need in order to thrive in their lives.”

“It’s important that people know that 100 percent of the donations that come in to the Rowan Foundation stay in Rowan county,” said Canavan. “These funds go to save and to improve lives right here. The funding needs are greater than ever, so it is essential that we be good stewards of every penny we receive.” He said the hospital will continue to operate and to provide good quality care, regardless, but the foundation “gets to live in the space of investing in projects that takes that care from good to excellent, and that gives the staff the tools and programs they need to continue to both improve and save lives.”