Strategic Planning in Times of Crisis

A Perspective from Board of Directors Vice Chair Peter McAweeney

When I first joined the board of the Healthcare Foundation, we had just completed a strategic planning process that guided the organization on a new path focused on three vital areas: health access, mental health, and early childhood development. Just as we started implementing this plan, the 2017 wildfire hit. While we maintained our strategic focus, the traumatic impact of the wildfire demanded we deepen our commitment to mental health. Fast forward to 2020, and it was time for the Foundation to engage in a new strategic planning process to further explore its future and new beginnings in serving the health of northern Sonoma County.

And then, the COVID pandemic hit.

While wildfires and pandemics affect entire communities, the enduring impact of these disasters brutally exposes the social, economic and health inequities that plague our society. On the other hand, disasters can also reveal resilience, uncover opportunities, mobilize empathy, and inspire collective action.

Embarking on a strategic planning process in the midst of the pandemic—with keen awareness that the drought might trigger another devastating wildfire season—presents unique challenges, but I see it more as an opportunity. Through the trials of the past four years, the Foundation has evolved into a more strategic and responsive organization, supporting the health ecosystem of our region as a critical funder, partner and leader guided by the principles of community, compassion and equity.

In our strategic planning process, we have paid particular attention to understanding equity, recognizing the reality that for individuals to achieve equal outcomes, they need access to resources and opportunities specific to their unique needs and challenges. We have listened alike to the lived experience of community members as well as to the nation’s leading health organizations—from the CDC and NIH to the New England Journal of Medicine—which are all elevating how structural racism is a root cause of the profound health inequities in our country, and indeed in our community here in Sonoma County.

Applying a deeper understanding of equity—and the structural barriers to achieving it—to the Foundation’s planning framework has led us to think more expansively and creatively about our work. We have been guided in this process by community listening sessions with local leaders, health advocates and the people who rely on the services provided by our grantees.

We will continue to focus on the issues of health access and mental health, and will have a lens on the well-being of families with young children, but our strategy is evolving to a more integrated approach. Challenges of healthcare access, mental health, and family well-being are not neatly siloed, so why should our solutions be? The social determinants of health and adverse childhood experiences can impact an individual’s health for a lifetime. Interventions in early life can change outcomes for the child, their family, and their entire community.

The board’s yearlong strategic planning process will be concluding in the upcoming months. We will be excited to share with you then our detailed vision for the Foundation’s next chapter. We anticipate that you will hear more about our deeper, more integrated “whole family” focus that will shape our work in many different ways, including:

  • Expanded investment in Community Health Workers and Promotores; community members who can take on many roles, including care coordination, case management, systems navigation, and even something as simple as transportation.
  • Continued strengthening and evolving of our Mental Health Talent Pipeline, which works to train and place bilingual/bicultural mental health providers in professional settings that will enhance equitable access to mental health services.
  • Continuing to serve as a convener, to bring together community leaders and stakeholders for critical dialogue and design solutions.
  • And exploring ways to balance downstream solutions to address critical health needs with upstream solutions to address more structural barriers to health equity.

While we all hope to maintain our collective progress against the COVID pandemic and to dodge another wildfire season, our community will undoubtedly face future crises. However, with a refreshed, integrated strategy that mobilizes our community’s empathy and remains committed to equity, the Healthcare Foundation will be well-positioned to advance the health and well-being of our most vulnerable community members and, in turn, better enable all of us to thrive together.

With deep gratitude for your support,

Peter McAweeney
Vice Chair, Board of Directors

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