First Cohort Graduates from Nonprofit Leadership Development Program

    • April 5, 2010

As the nation focuses on a series of massive policy changes to its health care system, a group of emerging nonprofit health leaders is working on a small project in another realm—the arts—to improve health and health care for all Americans.

Five nonprofit professionals in central New York are producing a documentary film that explores the barriers to health and health care faced by patients as well as providers. The group hopes the upcoming film will foster a kind of mutual enlightenment between patients and providers that will lead to better relationships and ultimately better care.

An improved relationship with her provider could have helped Veronica, a mentally ill patient in central New York with anger management problems who will appear in the documentary. On one occasion last summer, Veronica tried to cancel a follow-up appointment at a local mental health clinic. But she couldn’t navigate the clinic’s automated phone system and gave up in frustration. When she missed her appointment, the clinic discharged her. She now cannot get another appointment, her health has deteriorated, and related problems forced her to leave her apartment.

Veronica’s story illustrates the kind of barriers patients often face that can limit access to care, says one of the film’s producers, Diana Haldenwang, B.A., executive director of the Mohawk Valley Perinatal Network in Utica, N.Y. It also shows how providers can be so burdened by heavy caseloads that they cannot accommodate patients who miss appointments.

“A better partnership between patients and providers would improve the whole system,” Haldenwang says. Patients need to understand the pressures on providers, and providers need to understand the barriers to care faced by patients such as inadequate resources or insurance, lack of transportation, little knowledge of the health care system or, as in Veronica’s case, mental health problems.

In other words, patients and providers need to “walk a mile” in each others’ shoes. The film—called “Walk a Mile—Navigating the Healthcare System: A Patient and Provider Perspective”—aims to help providers and patients take that journey.

Haldenwang and four colleagues in central New York are producing the film as a final project of the program, Ladder to Leadership: Developing the Next Generation of Community Health Leaders. A partnership between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) and the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), the program provides leadership development training for emerging professionals in the nonprofit sector.

Ladder to Leadership Trains Junior Professionals to Become Future Leaders

Under the program, early- to mid-career nonprofit health and health care professionals learn how to make the most of scant resources, a skill that is especially valuable in the current economic climate, and how to collaborate more powerfully with other community organizations. The goal is to build the capacity of nonprofit leadership in preparation for an exodus of senior nonprofit leaders in coming years, as the Baby Boom generation retires.

“It was like leadership boot camp,” says Charmaine Frederick, B.A., director of the Health & Human Services Department of the Oneida Indian Nation in Oneida, N.Y. “The program really required us to step out of our comfort zones. In the end, we really grew from that.”

Janet Dauley Altwarg, J.D., M.H.A., director of the Long Term Care Executive Council of Central New York, agrees. “I am so grateful I was able to be a part of it. I can’t say enough good things about it.”

For her project, Dauley Altwarg and her colleagues are seeking funding to enable health care organizations to hire a staff person to train physicians on how to have discussions with patients and family members about end-of-life care. Teaching physicians how to have these conversations, Dauley Altwarg and her colleagues believe, will help encourage more patients and family members to complete advance directives. That, in turn, would reduce uncertainty at the time of death and variation in end-of-life care.

“If people aren’t familiar with what their loved one wants at the end of their life, they generally choose to treat. But we don’t know whether that’s what that person wants,” she says.

Dauley Altwarg was one of 26 Ladder to Leadership fellows in the central New York area who completed the 16-month program in December. In addition to projects about barriers to patients and providers and end-of-life care, fellows in this first cohort are pursuing projects in the areas of succession planning, human rights and care coordination.

During the program, fellows also participated in face-to-face training sessions, individualized executive coaching and mentoring.

The program accepts applicants from small, community-based nonprofit organizations such as public health organizations, free clinics, government agencies and small nursing homes. Applicants must demonstrate a proven commitment to serving vulnerable populations and have one to five years of supervisory experience.

A second cohort, based in Cleveland, will complete the program in June.

The program will take place in six other targeted areas: Birmingham, Ala.; Albuquerque, N.M.; Eastern North Carolina; the Portland, Ore., metropolitan area; the Mid-South region in Western Tennessee, Eastern Arkansas and Northern Mississippi; and the greater Newark, N.J., area.