December 27th, 2012
The author is program director of the John A. Hartford Foundation, a national funder based in New York City. He is editor and contributor for its blog, Health AGEnda.
For more than twenty years, the John A. Hartford Foundation has worked to improve the health of older Americans. And over that time, institutionally, we have shifted from deep skepticism about publicity and communications to what we hope is a balanced sense of how communicating to, and hearing from, the public can improve our work. This year, we extended our efforts to educate the public through two national public polls, through which we asked people older than age sixty-five about their experiences with, and views about, health care.
Given our size (endowment of $500 million) and average grant of almost $1 million over three years, the total cash cost of these polls feels reasonable ($20,000 to $30,000) and is comparable to some of the other “non-grant” ways we have tried to advance our mission (for example, publishing reports, convening grantees and policy audiences, and providing training in capacity building). Of course, it also requires an enormous effort from foundation staff and our outsourced communications colleagues from Strategic Communications and Planning.
Why are we doing this?
In considering any tactic, one should start at the beginning: the definition of the problem and our operating theory of change. Our fundamental thesis has long been that the health care system and the general public are unprepared for our aging society and don’t know what they don’t know. Basically, a lack of demand for expertise in the care of older adults on the part of consumers of care has translated into inattention in the health professions and a lack of serious preparation in the delivery system.
While everyone who faces cancer knows that they should at least consult with an oncologist, how many older Americans and their families facing increasingly complex chronic health and social care issues “know” that they should see an expert in geriatric care? How many people even believe that there is a relevant body of expertise? Read the rest of this entry »