Who among us does not revel at the sights, sounds and smells of spring? Gone are the chilly, damp and short days of winter days replaced by sunny skies, warm breezes, chirping birds, colorful flowers and the brilliant light of longer days. Basking in the beauty of spring gives one a feeling of rebirth.
The Washington Health Foundation is experiencing its own ‘spring-like’ rebirth this year. For us….2012 has been something of an emotional roller coaster. In January, we shared the difficult news that we needed to suspend our operations and determine how we could move forward with less money and a smaller staff. Despite our extraordinary successes over the past twenty years – more than 160 major programs, 500 grants and an assortment of other unique leadership initiatives- our reserves had diminished to a critically low level. Yet – we never gave up on our mission to improve health for the people of Washington. We just needed a new plan that fit with our new situation.
In fairness – the situation was not entirely unexpected. Years ago, we consciously chose to spend the money we generated so we could aggressively pursue our mission, rather than dribble out a small percentage of it year-to-year as many foundations do to in the interest of long-term security. As our reserves dwindled over time, our approach never wavered. We remained steadfast and went all in on innovations such as the Healthiest State in the Nation Campaign and our Healthiest State xChange. Even as the economy crumbled around us, we continued our fight to make Washington the Healthiest State in the Nation!
While we knew we might eventually need to make some drastic changes because of the loss of our reserves, that knowledge didn’t diminish the pain as we reached that moment. It was exceptionally difficult for us to lose a key element of our successful health leadership model - a staff approach that allowed us to employ some of the most dedicated, creative and personable health improvement advocates anywhere in the nation. The harsh truth in January was that we could no longer afford to stay on the road we were on, and needed to figure out how to maintain our mission, vision and values in a new way.
Throughout our winter of sadness and discontent, hope remained. We have always used hope as an ingredient of our change theory, and now embraced it, as challenging as it was, for ourselves. We radically redesigned organizational activities to preserve an operating base of funds that would give us a chance to look ahead. We took heart in the recognition from our friends and partners that the role we played was an important one and should be somehow maintained. We noted the important issues of the day, and the opportunities available to pursue our mission.
More than anything, however, our dedicated staff kept at it, even without any pay. We met on a weekly basis, and usually more frequently, to both commiserate over the circumstances and brainstorm what a new future for the Washington Health Foundation might look like. We shared our fears, our hopes and our struggles with one another. For so many years, we had encouraged Washingtonians to pursue a healthier lifestyle – even during times of adversity. Now…..we were forced to walk our own talk. We also realized what so many already knew – that health reform legislation was falling short of what needed to be done. And we talked about how we might use our changed circumstances to keep our important work going - and maybe even grow its impact.
Through it all….we remained hopeful that an opportunity we initiated last fall would help in our ‘rebirth.’ It was a grant request to the Attorney General’s Office for an award of cy pres settlement funds. Not just to keep us alive, but to deepen the innovative work around our “Health HoME” concept. We also had a plan to apply our ideas to a group that we now understood was in great need - Workers in Transition.
This month we finalized the award of this grant. We have officially brought back most of our staff, in a newly framed affiliate staff relationship, to implement our Health HoMEs for Workers in Transition Program. The Personal Health Advocates of our Healthiest State xChange are back at it, and able to assist clients whether we receive commission payments for their services or not. We have re-established some of the other key elements of our model for the future - such as a new website that makes it easier for us to spring forward with our messages and legacy. It is spring again at the offices of the Washington Health Foundation!Yes, the Washington Health Foundation is back - though, not all the way. At this point, we have no assurance that we can keep things going beyond 2012. But then, we have never had this security. Nor were we ever entirely gone, as we kept much of WHF going throughout our troubling winter. The Board will be convening soon to hear our staff ideas for what can come next. And what we can do to finance that future.
For those of you who stuck with us during this difficult time, thank you. Your support means more than you will ever know. For those of you who are new to us, and just looking to find out what we can do to help you and improve the health of others, welcome. For those of you who never knew there was a change, good to connect with you again. It has been an interesting year.
Check out our new Workers in Transition program. Call one of our Personal Health Advocates and learn how they can customize health coverage solutions for you, your family or your workplace (855-WA-HEALTH). Keep your eye on our Healthiest State Blog - which is also reviving to allow our voice to be heard on important health issues in our state.
Above all, continue to let us know what we can do, and what you are willing to do to help us, continue our march forward to make Washington the Healthiest State in the Nation!