Social Good

Shaping Communities: The Story of Providence St. Joseph Health

What would our community be without medical experts? We may only encounter hospitals when in dire need, but it doesn’t change the fact that these institutions offer life-saving resources 24 hours a day. Hospitals play such an integral role in society, and Providence St. Joseph Health (PSJH) is one hospital that is reaching beyond its operating rooms and into its communities.

Last December, I was very honest on social media about the health struggles my family faced. Living away from my family felt nearly impossible as my brother experiences numerous heart issues, and my dad was later admitted for a serious surgery. I traveled home to be with family during the month of December, getting to know the walls of the hospital and the medical teams very well. Thanks to the doctors and nurses who worked tirelessly to help my father, he was on the road to recovery within a few weeks. My family felt immense comfort knowing how much passion and commitment each staff member had.

Behind the doctors of every hospital, there are professionals who work behind-the-scenes to better not just the lives of patients admitted, but also the health of the community. When I learned about the efforts Providence St. Joseph Health was making to serve its neighborhoods, I was astonished by the reach and mission of the organization. Through community partnerships, Providence St. Joseph Health lends a hand to the most vulnerable.

Providence St. Joseph Health (3 of 4)

Giving back is part of Providence St. Joseph Health’s DNA. More than 160 years ago, two groups of women set out on separate journeys from France and Montreal to the West Coast with the purpose of  learning the community’s needs and providing solutions. These trailblazers were the Sisters of St. Joseph and the Sisters of Providence. Today, PSJH continues to serve its neighbors. For example, Providence St. Joseph Health has awarded more than $1 billion in community benefit grants and investments.

I had the opportunity to speak to Dora Barilla, Group Vice President of Community Health Investment at Providence St. Joseph Health. Our interview left me feeling touched and inspired. I’m confident the purposeful work of PSJH will leave you feeling motivated to find ways to help your own community.

Dora Barilla, Group Vice President of Community Health Investment at Providence St. Joseph Health

As a healthcare professional, what brought you into this line of work and how does Providence St. Joseph Health align with your values? 

I have always been called to the health care field and started working at a hospital when I was 16.  Initially, I was interested in prevention and wellness and very quickly realized health was much more than eating right and exercise.  The social conditions in which we live, the policies influencing our environment and access, our economic mobility, and our social connections were the key to overall health. That said, I went back for my Doctorate of Public Health to understand a more holistic perspective.  That gave me the knowledge of improving lives millions at a time, and I now have the privilege of working for Providence St. Joseph Health where my values and beliefs align.  Improving the physical, emotional and spiritual health of our communities is in our DNA.  Working at PSJH is my calling and vocation and I feel blessed every day. 

When learning about Providence St. Joseph Health, I was impressed with the amount of work the organization does outside of its own walls. Can you elaborate on why community outreach is so important to your mission?  

Health improvement can be influenced very little by the average 2.7 days most people stay in a hospital. Going beyond the walls of our facilities and connecting with our communities are the key to health improvement.  If we are not present where people live, play, work and pray we are not connecting with their lives and being a part of what matters to people.  These are the connections that unlock trust and a collaborative path to health and healing.  Not to mention it is so much fun to walk alongside our communities. 

What are a few examples of how Providence St. Joseph Health is working within its communities?

We are working with our community in every region and there are so many wonderful examples of community partnerships.  Across our ministries and service areas, housing and homelessness is a persistent challenge for many of our most vulnerable community members. 

Providence Community Care Center helps close to 200 homeless each day in downtown Olympia, Washington, gain access to mental health, substance abuse, housing and primary care services—all under one roof, in a compassionate and safe environment.  Through this collaboration of 12 community organizations, this center is meant to be a catalyst for change—by providing the essential components of healthy living, the hope is that it can lead to educational, economic and job opportunities. Already, more than 100 individuals have been placed in housing and another 450 have signed up to receive housing. And, the emergency room at Providence St. Peter saw a 50 percent decrease in people seeking service referrals now available at the center.

Food insecurity remains a serious problem in many communities, and PSJH is working to address this concern by providing access to nutritious food. Across Oregon, nearly one in six households lack access to nutritious food, causing families to regularly skip meals. In response, Providence St. Joseph Health in Oregon operates a community teaching kitchen and food pharmacy in addition to the Screen and Intervene program that has screened over a thousand families and helped 125 of them enroll in food assistance services. In Missoula County, Montana, patients at Providence St. Patrick Hospital fill their prescription for fresh produce at a mobile farmer’s market every week. The Produce Prescription program was created as a service of Providence’s Endocrinology, Diabetes and Nutrition Center. About 1,000 pounds of produce have been provided to people in need since the program began in 2015.

Providence St. Joseph Health
Providence St. Jospeh Health’s Mobile Dental Clinic

The PSJH Community Partnership Fund has awarded millions of dollars in grant money to nonprofits supporting underserved populations. What traits does Providence St. Joseph Health look for in a nonprofit partner? 

The Community Partnership Fund supports nonprofit organizations that exemplify our organization’s core values.  We partner with nonprofit organizations to address the needs of the economically poor and vulnerable and socially disadvantaged.  We seek strategic partnerships with organizations that focus on community engagement and system change to improve the health and wellbeing of the communities we serve.  

What are a few of the nonprofit partners Providence St. Joseph Health has provided to? 

Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California, has been helping at-risk children with mental health services for 50 years. Children with developmental disabilities, emotional challenges, or who encounter domestic violence, substance or physical abuse find loving care and support at this center. In 2015, nearly 4,100 families were served, many at no cost, through the center, which has been nationally recognized as an award-winning program for educating and training child and adolescent mental health psychologists.

What has been one of your most rewarding moments at Providence St. Joseph Health? 

I had the opportunity to travel to Montreal in 2016 and visit the general administration offices of the Sisters of Providence, one of the congregations that founded PSJH.  While I was visiting the library I had the chance to read the handwritten inventory documented by the Sisters regarding the number of individuals they provided care to in the early years.  Much of the care included providing food and helping the poor and vulnerable receive shelter.  These archives dated back to the 1800s.  I felt so inspired and proud.  I had the privilege to stand on the shoulders of these incredible women who were serving the needs of the community long before the government had legislation requiring health systems to serve the poor.  To think that I had the opportunity to have a small part in the organization’s long history humbled me.  A moment and inspiration I won’t forget. 

Providence St. Joseph Health

Can you share information about Providence St. Joseph Health’s Community Benefit programs and how they directly impact families? 

PSJH’s Community Benefit programs are based on our Community Health Needs Assessments.  Every few years we conduct a sacred process of collecting data and listening intently to the needs of our communities.  Our programs and investments are rooted in the wisdom of the community and most often address housing insecurity, mental health and substance use issues, food insecurity and access to health services.  These programs are assessed every three years, and if they aren’t improving the health of the families in our communities, we make modifications and identify the barriers. Although we have always looked at the impact of our programs, we have a unique opportunity with the improvement of the available data for community health and will be making it a priority to evaluate the direct impact our programs and partnerships are having on families and we will be holding ourselves to a higher level of accountability.   

When trying to diagnosis the areas of improvement or aid in your hospitals’ communities, how do you determine what each community’s needs are? 

As I mentioned earlier, we are excited about the improvements to our community health needs assessments. In each community, we go through a thoughtful process of collecting publicly available data that assesses the social and economic conditions, the health status and behaviors impacting health, along with the physical environment.  Traditional public health reporting assessed mortality and morbidity and we are fortunate to live in an era where we have data that looks “upstream” but the community conditions that cause the death and disabilities in the first place.  We couple that data with thoughtful listening sessions with our communities themselves.  I often equate our community health needs assessment to how a physician would assess the health of an individual patient but through our process, we assess people by the millions.  We take pride in listening intently and looking at the data that can create a true path to Health for a Better World.

Can you share a favorite success story from a Community Benefit program that filled you with pride? 

I love our success stories that involve our youth and support them to be a part of creating a better future.  One of my favorite success stories involves St. Jude Children’s Dental Clinic that has provided services to low-income children for the past 20 years.  A four-year-old boy had thirteen of his twenty teeth decayed, his mouth was swollen, a nerve exposed, and he had a gum abscess.  He had difficulty eating because it was painful to chew and difficulty sleeping due to pain.  His parents were undocumented and had nowhere to turn.  This young boy received many months of treatment, and all of his decayed teeth were pulled, his gum infection was cleared up, he was provided a temporary denture and his mouth was ready to accept his permanent teeth as they came in.  He was able to smile again.

How can nonprofit organizations in your area work with or be recognized by Providence St. Joseph Health? 

We always enjoy connecting with like-minded organizations and encourage anyone to engage with our local ministries and their Community Health Investment leaders in each region. Feel free to contact me at dora.barilla@providence.org or visit PSJHealth.org/cares and see how we live our mission in our communities.

This post was created in partnership with Providence St. Joseph Health. All opinions are my own, and I’m proud to partner with such an amazing cause. Thank you to the organizations that make this blog possible.

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