The nonprofit health initiative known as Wellville was launched in 2014 with the mission of demonstrating how and why individuals and communities should invest in long-term health.
In pursuit of this goal, Wellville chose a diverse group of five communities across the United States to act as labs and test cases to hopefully drive larger change at the community, state and national levels.
Wellville CEO Rick Brush will participate in a fireside chat at the MedCity Pop Health event in New Orleans on May 22 where he will lay out examples of the progress made and challenges faced by Wellville communities in their quest for better health. Buy tickets for the event here.
Brush is a longtime healthcare executive and advisor who was part of the team that helped Cigna launch its Communities of Health venture, a multi-site initiative that convened public-private stakeholders to address social determinants of health. Brush has also been a leader in developing and implementing new models that allow stakeholders to pay for preventive health measures through long-term benefits and cost savings.
Those experiences led Wellville Executive Founder Esther Dyson to tap him as the organization’s CEO with the responsibility of overseeing the nationwide program back in 2013.
In the intervening years, Brush said he and the organization have learned a lot about how best to act as a facilitator to help communities set and meet their own internal health goals.
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Since the initial germination of Wellville, the initiative has shifted from competitive structure to a collaboration and the length of the program itself was extended from five to 10 years.
“Everything we’ve done has been a learning experience. This work takes time and building trusting, effective collaborations takes time,” Brush said. “Because this is initiative in a longer time frame it has allowed communities to look upstream and not be solely focused on what they’re seeing in the emergency room.”
In fact, Brush said a major role played by Wellville has been helping to focus community health priorities around longer term goals that can be addressed by preventive instead of treatment-based solutions.
“It’s really hard when your nose is to the grindstone to be able to step back and do that assessment. Our diagnosis of the problem is that across the board short term thinking has led to suboptimal results,” Brush said.
“A lot of what Wellville is doing is helping communities apply that questioning to understand where short term thinking is leading to the results they’re getting and what kind of work, collaboration, investments can be made that point towards long term shared benefits.”
Wellville has also helped to develop the business case and models to make investing in community health a long-term sustainable strategy. While this means engaging traditional healthcare stakeholders, the organization is diving much deeper into collective investment from a range of partners not limited to health systems and health plans.
One example in the Wellville community of Spartanburg, South Carolina has been Hello Family, a program meant to improve health outcomes for families and children from the prenatal stage to the first five years of life. Interventions range from clinician home visits for at-risk moms to parenting education programs to early learning and kindergarten readiness.
With Wellville’s assistance, Spartanburg is looking to quantify benefits from program to the community at-large, taking into account the local health system, the city itself, the school district and state and federal programs. The goal ultimately is to try and develop a Pay for Success program that engages investment from across these groups.
“This is important because it shows there are methods of investing together in programs that have benefits beyond a single financial stakeholder,” Brush said.
Another instance was the formation of a health industry collaborative in Lake County, California helping to fund new transitional housing centers that act as a bulwark against homelessness and a central point for social and behavioral health services. The centers have led to proven savings in both healthcare and social services costs.
When given a chance to reflect on his own learnings, Brush said he’s gained a much greater appreciation in the role of policy in setting the framework to enable greater change within the community.
Additionally – even as his group looks to drive larger community change – Brush highlighted the role of the individual in being the continual spark plug necessary to push past inertia and skepticism.
“There is something to be said about what an individual is willing to bring. The level of courage and conviction that is necessary to move this work forward, which at almost every turn is pretty challenging,” Brush said.
“As much as I’d like to say that all of the institutions, local governments and neighborhoods are onboard with this work. The truth is that it is still dependent on the individuals leading those groups.”
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