Chris’s essay in the Mercury News…

In case you missed it (or want to read it again, like the way some of us watch The Breakfast Club over and over), this was published in the Mercury News on March 22:

As you may know, the President’s first budget draft eliminates funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, and for the Corporation for National Service. His first take on a health care bill – the one designed to replace the Affordable Care Act – slashes Medi-Cal expansion and would leave millions without coverage.

I feel strongly about this. See, not long ago I chaired the board at San Jose Jazz, and today I work closely with Silicon Valley Creates. I know well the good they do, and what will be lost if they go away.

Longer ago I ran City Year San Jose/Silicon Valley, the premiere AmeriCorps program in the South Bay. I know well the good it does. I also know what will be lost if it goes away.

And for thirteen years I’ve run the foundation at Santa Clara Valley Medical Center. I’ve gotten my health care at SCVMC that whole time…just like thousands of individuals and families who need primary care or the unique, specialty care our public hospital provides. One in four residents of Santa Clara County have recently used or rely on SCVMC, just like me.

Yes, we very well know the good it does.

You of course remember the “ice bucket challenge” of 2014, a clever idea that went viral and raised tons of well-deserved money for ALS research. Dump ice on your head, film it, post it, and donate to ALS…fun! More than fun in fact: The ice bucket challenge introduced a whole new group of people to the idea that giving to a cause is helpful and even feels good and makes you happy. Again, fun!

Well I think it’s high time for a less-fun, but equally important idea to go viral: Donate now to the nonprofits you love who are under attack. Not everyone is comfortable writing to congress or marching in the streets (which is still vital), but donating to the charities that will be impacted by these proposed cuts is another great way to channel your anger toward something positive.

You ARE angry, aren’t you? This isn’t even political, really: You don’t need to be a liberal or democrat to appreciate jazz, or a museum or the ballet. I served on San Jose Jazz’s board with conservatives and progressives alike. Through City Year, I met Bill Clinton and John McCain and Carly Fiorina, all of whom appreciated the ideals of national service.

And I’ve met Republicans and Democrats whose lives were saved by our county’s trauma team.

I can’t guess about San Jose Jazz or City Year, but here’s something certain: SCVMC isn’t going anywhere. Your public hospital has been here since 1876 and has weathered all kinds of storms. Its leaders and doctors and nurses are a brilliant team, and our county leadership is determined and resolved. This new storm, however, will bring challenges. And simply put, it makes me angry.

Now is absolutely the time for a new wave of viral philanthropy. If you’re angry about any effort to stop federal funding for arts programs that make our communities vibrant and exciting, donate to your local arts council. If you’re steamed about destroying the Corporation for National Service and the democracy it builds in our nation’s young people, give to your local favorite AmeriCorps program.

And if you’re upset about low-income families losing coverage while the wealthy see a reduction in cost, or about the very idea that some deserve quality health care while others perhaps don’t…well, there’s a public hospital foundation that could really use your help.


You don’t even need to dump ice on your head.

A great victory…and the future it informs.

yes-on-aThere is an adage that goes “success has a thousand parents; failure is an orphan”. This, obviously, speaks to people and organizations who seek credit for a good thing happening. Sometimes that’s unjustified and unfair.

But what about when a great success really does come about because so many stood up and stepped up? That’s powerful and profound, and that’s exactly what happened in Santa Clara County this summer and fall…and the victory came together the night of November 8, 2016, when Measure A was approved by the voters.

…not that we knew it at the time.

We needed 66.67% to win, and it took nearly two weeks to certify that we won with 67.67%. Obviously, we won by a very, VERY narrow margin of a single percentage point.

A reminder, in case you’re late to this party: Measure A provides $950,000,000 to build supportive housing, low-income housing and to help first-time home-buyers.  The lion’s share, paid for with a property tax increase, will kick Silicon Valley’s homelessness crisis to the curb. That crisis is arguably the worst in the nation, and county voters demonstrated on Election Day that they have heart, they want to help, and they embrace the common good. Considering the results at the top of the ticket, this victory and the compassion it reveals is extremely important.

What’s also electrifying is the number of non-profit organizations that got involved, many for the first time. To do that, their leadership needed to confront and reject a myth that 501c3 tax-exempt charities cannot “do politics”. I’ve written about this myth before, and this summer and fall after jumping in head-first to this effort, I worked to educate and urge my colleagues in the “public benefit sector” that contributing time, talent and treasure to Measure A was

  • Perfectly legal;
  • A moral obligation;
  • A path to your own success, and;
  • The only way we were going to win.

Let’s explore these four areas a little…and at the end, I’ll explain why.

Perfectly Legal. That is, if you follow the rules. No big deal; we do it every day. It’s legal to drive your Corvette 70MPH. But only on some roads. If you’re sober. And you’re a licensed driver. Rules…we learn them and abide by them. In the case of charities and elections, California’s rules are quite clear: Your charity cannot officially support a candidate, but you can support a non-partisan initiative or measure so long as it relates to your mission (why homelessness and health care are related should be evident, but if it’s not don’t worry: It will be by the end of this essay).

The general rule is 20%–that is, a nonprofit charity can donate 20% of their annual budget to a ballot initiative in California, and spend right around that much staff time advocating. There are reporting requirements that get a little complex, but not nearly as complex as, say, your annual audit!  Again, it’s a matter of learning the rules and following them. If you’re lucky and can afford it, a nonprofit or election lawyer is smart to engage…or better yet, talk one into joining your board!

Here is a great place to start to learn the details of campaign/lobbying rules…and remember, rules change all the time, so don’t just rely on one source of information.

A Moral Obligation. Those who work for/run nonprofits do so to get rich and buy jet airplanes. Kidding! We are fiercely dedicated to the idea of reconfiguring parts of the world for the betterment of others. We love animals and want them safe. We detest prejudice and injustice. We want to slow climate change so it doesn’t destroy Florida.  Or, in the case of Measure A, we feel that everyone deserves a place to live and that homelessness is worth fighting.

None of that makes us saints or even unusual. People who run hotels and who sell falafel for a living also care about these things…if they didn’t, Measure A wouldn’t have passed. But here’s the difference: If you work for a homeless shelter or a food bank, you understand the issue WAY better than the average person. If you and your agency sit on the sidelines while the community discusses supportive housing, the issue and level of discourse is short-changed. Your voice is necessary. Your opinion piece in the newspaper is vital. Your agency’s money is a bit greener. Your endorsement counts…more than that of others. Not getting involved is simply not okay.

A Path to Your Own Success. Homelessness, for example, is sad and awful. That’s why people are compelled to help. Also, homelessness is expensive. I knew the number was big, having spent time with so many providers, but even I was shocked when I learned that Santa Clara Valley Medical Center (the hospital my agency supports) spent nine hundred million dollars over a four-year period providing care for people who are homeless. Add in other county (tax-payer provided) interventions like law enforcement and social services, and you’ll find we spend over five hundred million in just one year, not counting the program budgets of the dozens of nonprofits on the front lines.

And the real tragedy? People are, generally speaking, NOT getting better. How could they? Managing people’s chronic health conditions while they’re living in a creek bed? Helping people with mental health conditions while they’re living under a freeway overpass? What the ping pong balls do we expect? This is why the housing first model makes logical sense, and why so many nonprofits ultimately came aboard the Measure A Campaign: Working hard to serve people whose lives aren’t measurably improved by your service is soul-crushing—among people like doctors, nurses and social workers whose hearts and souls are huge.

Fundamentally, the heroes of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center—along with my colleagues who run nonprofits like HomeFirst, The Health Trust, Destination Home, Momentum for Mental Health, Catholic Charities…they care about people. When asked why a hospital foundation was all-in on a homelessness measure, I would often site those great agencies and say “I want their work to work better.”

The Only Way We’re Going to Win. Like it or not, campaigns are expensive. Cheap compared to the homelessness crisis, but still. We faced the longest ballot in California history, and local measures are way, way down near the bottom. To earn the attention and vote of enough Santa Clara County residents this year, we figured we’d need to raise a million and a half bucks. At least.

But here’s the problem, which is really the central message of this rambling treatise: Lots of nonprofits didn’t even know they could get involved! What an untapped resource (I reasoned), and opportunity to exceed those fundraising goals. By the time I jumped in, our badass County Supervisor Cindy Chavez had already convinced several charities to give big, and the VMC Foundation immediately endorsed and gave (gulp) $100,000. This was not funny-money; this was operational reserve. This was a risk.

cookieNow, we’d done that before and more than once, so I also saw that my obligation was to help educate other 501c3’s that they needed to ante up. Boy, did they ever! By November the Measure A Campaign had raised a whopping $2.3 million. There has never been a time in Silicon Valley where more nonprofits joined housing developers, wealthy progressives and other stakeholders to amass such a war chest. All that money was turned into direct mail to voters, radio, TV, YouTube, and (not making this up) 15,000 cookies given out on college campuses…anything really, to rise above the Clinton/Trump noise and Be Heard. We also hired seasoned campaign professionals – the best we could find.

The nonprofit community stepped up in other important ways. Many of us are members of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, and together, we convinced them to withdraw their initial opposition to Measure A. We wrote letters to editors, penned opinion pieces for every newspaper in the valley, and spoke at every community gathering we could find. Closer to November 8, we got on the phones and never stopped dialing. We pounded the pavement with literature. We went bananas on social media. If not bananas, then


Election Night, November 8, 2016. The shock of Donald Trump’s victory muted what would have otherwise been a great celebration: Measure A passed—by a hair. This is revealing on a number of fronts. First, we needed every agency, every donor, every dollar to win. Had any of our handful of six-figure contributors sat on the sidelines, we likely would have lost. And because giving means commitment, agencies that contributed were also there with volunteers walking and phoning. It took every one of them to get us across that goal line.

Second, this victory speaks to who we are in Silicon Valley. With civility and compassion in short supply nationally, we dig deep and find it here. We’ve done it before, many times, for similar reasons: If Washington won’t help us solve problems, we’ll solve them ourselves. For example, with the election of George W. Bush in 2000, Santa Clara County leaders realized no one was going to help us provide care to underserved kids. Thus, the Children’s Health Initiative was created by county officials, labor leaders and funders who responded to the problem and built an innovative solution to it. Years later, it would be replicated by most counties in the state. Years still later, Governor Brown made it the law of the land. As a result, every child in California has access to health coverage.

That’s a major triumph, right? That’s why my third and final point is that we must keep the band together. Pundits and newspapers described Measure A as “game-changing”, a “hail Mary pass”, “staggeringly ambitious” and “unprecedented.” Every nonprofit who joined the coalition should feel proud and electrified, because all of us, together, made it happen. I’ve already described how every ounce of energy and every dime donated was necessary to win, so now let’s ask the obvious question: What’s next?

Keeping a coalition together is never easy, but the “other” major event of November 8 reveals that we simply must. If Trump’s promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act is actuated, if persecution of specific religious groups is encouraged, if trickle-down economics widens evenangela further the economic canyon swallowing more and more in our community…well, you get it. We’ve got our work cut out for us.

So, even loosely, we nonprofits have to stay united to further the progressive policies on which we agree. We have become a multi-celled customizable action tank for addressing needs. As the greatest needs emerge, and as solutions are proposed, and to the degree those solutions require a massive coalition of idealistic leaders, we must be ready and be together. If you’ve read this far, you may very well be one of those idealistic leaders. We’ve proven we can do amazing things. You are awesome. We are awesome. Let’s meet for coffee soon. I’ll buy.

Why is VMC so great? Teamwork!

Mature Students Sitting Together Working on Computers

It’s not every day that you get a ringing endorsement from one of Silicon Valley’s most influential companies, but today is the day.

Facebook (you’ve heard of them?) has a product manager whose son spent weeks at VMC’s renowned Burn Center earlier this year. That’s a hard place to be, obviously, but the care you can expect to get there if you ever need it is fantastic.

So much so, and so impressed was Ms. Budaraju, that she wrote a piece on what she learned about teamwork from the Burn Center. It’s a marvelous and well-written piece, and the information contained crosses nearly every job, every sector I can think of.

So, I invite you to read her excellent post and apply what she learned – what VMC’s Burn Center exhibits – to YOUR work. I know I will!

Medical Legal Partnership Opens at VMC’s new Health Center!

The alert reader of this blog will remember two years ago when we celebrated the five-years of VMC’s Medical Legal Partnership Clinic. This is the innovative idea that, sometimes, a lawyer can solve your medical problem better than a doctor!

Intrigued by that concept? So were we in 2009, and so was FIRST 5 Santa Clara County which funded this great partnership and kept it going for five years.

Sometimes, it takes that long to prove a concept…but the good news is that in Santa Clara County, especially at Valley Medical Center, a proven concept leads to my favorite word: SUSTAINABILITY.

After hundreds of patients helped, fueled by donations from FIRST 5, the leadership of VMC asked the County to make the Medical Legal Partnership a permanent part of its budget, and to give it a home in the new Valley Health Center Downtown.

…and that happened, and today was Opening Day! A huge congratulations to Dr. Leanna Botkin and the team at the Law Foundation Silicon Valley’s “Legal Advocates for Children and Youth” for demonstrating how this collaboration can make such a positive difference for patients who often have little recourse to improve a situation for themselves or their children.

Click here to learn more about the Medical Legal Partnership, and here to learn more about Valley Health Center Downtown, the latest jewel serving the population of our country’s tenth largest city.

VHC Sunnyvale expands services thanks to grant funding from El Camino Healthcare District

VHC SunnyvaleValley Health Center Sunnyvale is one of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center’s ambulatory clinics providing care to underserved children and adults living in North County. Services include integrated primary care, dental services, comprehensive perinatal services, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, and a pediatric healthy lifestyle center to help children combat obesity and related conditions. Lab and pharmacy are also centrally located for ease of patient access.

This year, thanks to a generous grant from El Camino Healthcare District, VHC Sunnyvale expanded its express care services to increase access, and continued to provide full-service dental care including an evening dental clinic. Funding from ECHD made it possible for VHC Sunnyvale to provide over 4,000 visits to 2,000 patients.

A VHC Sunnyvale patient shared, “At last, I am so very happy to have a dentist who cares about my well-being in regard to my dental health. The service from all the staff has been excellent.”

El Camino Healthcare District has been a long-time supporter of VHC Sunnyvale. Since 2008, over $8.7M in grant funding has been provided to improve and expand healthcare services for North County residents. Due to the success of the partnership, the ECHD board recently voted to award an additional $968,000 to VHC Sunnyvale to continue expanded services in the express care and dental clinics in 2016-17.

Read more about El Camino Healthcare District’s funding priorities for 2016-17 in their Community Benefit Plan.

Join us this Saturday in celebration of the Downtown Health Center

downtown clinic exteriorAt Santa Clara Valley Medical Center (SCVMC), we strive to make high quality healthcare readily
accessible to all residents of Santa Clara County. This week, we take one more step to improving access to care with the grand opening of Valley Health Ce
nter Downtown on Saturday, June 11th from 9 AM – noon. SCVMC’s beautiful new health center is located on 777 East Santa Clara Street in downtown San Jose.

Many activities are planned to celebrate this opening on Saturday morning.

  • Local firefighters will serve a delicious free pancake breakfast to attendees.
  • Tours of the facility will be available throughout the morning.
  • Elected officials and other guest speakers will be attendance to warmly welcome the

Community to our spacious state-of-the-art healthcare facility.

  • We will have over 20 booths with information, games, and other activities for children and families.
  • The Santa Clara County Sheriff s office will present one of their fascinating search and rescue boats.
  • Guests can participate in a chance to win a free prize.

Our dedicated care team will provide a variety of services, including, but not limited to Urgent Care (open 7 days per week from 8 AM – 10 PM), Family Medicine, Pediatrics, Women’s Health, select Specialty Care, and Behavioral Health. We will also offer onsite pharmacy, laboratory, and radiology services. Urgent care, and supporting ancillary services will officially open on Monday, June 13th.  All other services will be rolled out beginning in late June.

Valley Health Center Downtown has the capacity to serve as a Medical Home for over 30,000 individuals, providing quality and accessible care as part of a fully integrated and comprehensive health care system.

For many years SCVMC has worked to foster close collaboration with our local community, community health partners and advocates, elected officials and the Measure A Oversight Committee to support and guide the creation of this new community asset in the heart of downtown San Jose.

Welcome, Valley Health Center Downtown!

IMG_5318It’s a very, very big week for Valley Medical Center.

After more than a decade, on the site of the former San Jose Medical Center, in the downtown core of the 10th largest city in the United States, medical care is happening. Yes, Valley Health Center Downtown is OPENING!

For folks new in town, a little history:

In the winter of 2004, San Jose Medical Center closed abruptly after 80 years of service. A coalition of downtown activists tried—and failed—to prevent the closure, and then quickly turned their energy toward the future. The question: What could we do to ensure that downtown residents, regardless of insurance status, had somewhere to go for urgent and ongoing medical care?

Meanwhile, up the road at Valley Medical Center, the impact was felt as twice the number of patients began arriving in the Emergency Department than before the closure. Then three times the number.

The team at VMC’s ED worked brilliantly to manage the patient demand. At the same time, a growing coalition began crafting a plan to re-build part of VMC and build another health center downtown.

The opportunity came during the presidential election year of 2008, and the coalition moved with purpose. Measure A was crafted, and long story short, we WON in November. This secured the $50M it would take to build a state of the art health center at 777 East Santa Clara Street where San Jose Medical Center once stood.

And now, eight years later and on budget, Valley Health Center Downtown is serving patients. Last Wednesday we held a VIP and donor reception to thank everyone who made it all possible. The event included many attendees who were there, eleven years ago, working to save what ultimately couldn’t be saved. It was an emotional event and included scores of donors, elected officials, builders and medical professionals. Truly a wonderful evening.

You may think I’m “burying the lead” here, but I’m not. The VMC Foundation throws good parties, sure, but the most important thing is that the mission of Valley Medical Center is being actualized in downtown San Jose…and I am so happy and so proud. For all who made it happen: THANK YOU.

If you would like to be a part of the excitement, a grand opening celebration happens Saturday June 11 at 9am, on site at 777 East Santa Clara Street in San Jose. Free to attend, lots of fun for the whole family – c’mon down!

Omar’s Dream: Educating kids…no matter what!

Remember when you were little, and the anxiety you felt missing school due to a long illness? Falling behind is sad reality for too many kids facing a long hospitalization, but now a solution is at hand.

The VMC Foundation, on behalf of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, is partnering with Omar’s Dream Foundation to enable hospitalized and medically supervised children to remotely attend school allowing them to stay connected to their teachers and classmates. The services are free for all qualified students and their educators.

We know that education and health are both equal building blocks for a child’s success. We’re so grateful to Omar’s Dream and the ability to keep those building blocks strong!

VMC Foundation staff gratefully accept a large gift from Jamila Hassan, Founder of Omar's Dream Foundation.

VMC Foundation staff gratefully accept a large gift from Jamila Hassan, Founder of Omar’s Dream Foundation.

Happy 30th Birthday Valley Health Plan!

Chris Wilder Flu Shot 2013

Long story short: When I first started here at the VMC Foundation, the job afforded no health coverage. Which was ironic, don’t you think?

My wife’s company did, and I was already on her plan. I don’t remember what it was, or any of my doctors’ names. That’s because the few times I ever went to see one I felt like a number (at best) or an imposition (at worst). Nobody ever got to know me, or talked to me about my overall health. Many of us have experienced the “five minute doctor visit”…and until 2006 I thought that was normal.

That was the year the VMC Foundation became a true “employer” and had to decide what kind of company we were going to be. If we were going to hire staff, we needed to offer benefits—and they’d better be good, since that’s a core value that the VMC Foundation and Valley Medical Center holds dear. We were finally ready to talk to Valley Health Plan about doing something they’d never done before: Offering coverage to a private non-profit. We were the first, and suddenly, my health care was with VHP and Valley Medical Center!

What. A. Difference.

My doctor, Chris Snow, asked me questions, and not just about me, but my whole family. Some of them went like this: “Why are you taking cholesterol medicine when you’re vegan, and when everyone on both sides of your family live into their 90’s or longer?” Other questions, like “How much time to you spend sitting at your desk?” or “What would it take to schedule some more cardio?” demanded that I truly think seriously about the answers – because by then, I had come to like and trust Dr. Snow and I wanted him to be proud of me.

Not long after, Chris Snow moved on…but not his caring manner. He left that for Dr. Bob Horowitz who inherited me next. Just like Snow, Dr. Horowitz took the time to learn about me and me about him. Rarely, he would refer me to others throughout the VHP system and always, I met world-class providers and Nurse Practitioners and X-Ray Techs and – well, everyone really. Even when I showed up at 3am with the weirdest emergency I’d ever had, I was met with compassion and technical brilliance. I still have ten fingers as proof.

Over the years, as the VMC Foundation grew from a tiny nonprofit to one more robust, Valley Health Plan has also grown. What a thrill it was when they were selected to be part of the Covered California health exchange! Suddenly, our “little” VHP was one of just a handful of choices that anyone could choose through our state’s exchange. For me, it was no choice at all; when was the last time you got to interact personally with the CEO of your health plan? For me, and “super-local” VHP, it happens frequently.

Here’s a bonus: Whenever I get medication or visit my doctor, I’m not asked for a co-pay. This isn’t always the case, but at Valley Health Plan, it certainly is the norm. Other perks include acupuncture, the widest array of specialists for whatever might ail me, MyHealth Online, and because I work here, running into my doctor in the hallway all the time. Okay, that last part has its downsides, but the occasional “getting those 10,000 steps in, Chris?” do have an effect.

And the result? I’m a healthier person for my VHP membership. I know it, and I appreciate it. Happy birthday, VHP. I’m writing this on my 48th, and I expect you and I will both have a lot more birthdays to share.

World Breastfeeding Week: VMC a Top CA Hospital in Breastfeeding Rates

National Breastfeeding WeekDid you know that VMC is among the top hospitals in the state in breastfeeding rates for new moms? That’s no accident — VMC is a leader in innovative programs to encourage breastfeeding. We all know that breastfeeding gives babies the best possible start, providing them with an ideal balance of nutrients for their growth and development, reducing the risk of infection and disease, promoting mother-child bonding, and even reducing the risk of childhood obesity.

Funding from FIRST 5 Santa Clara County and Kaiser Permanente has made possible over 8,000 hours of training for VMC’s newborn care providers in offering best practice and evidence-based breastfeeding instruction to moms. Funding also enables follow-up calls to recently discharged moms to help address any breastfeeding challenges they face at home.

VMC is investing in an on-site Milk Lab in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) to ensure that even the most vulnerable infants benefit from this healthy start. Support from FIRST 5 Santa Clara County and other generous donors has helped fund special freezers and storage units, prep stations to standardize breast milk processing (breast milk for preemies is often fortified with additional calories and nutrients), and designated staff to ensure that each baby gets the nutrition he or she needs. With a recent donation from the Will Rogers Institute, VMC will soon be adding an on-site breast milk analyzer to determine how much protein, fat, and carbohydrate is in a mother’s milk. This is important because providing sufficient nutrition for NICU infants is crucial to maximizing weight gain and assuring proper physiological development.

VMC has a fabulous team of lactation experts leading efforts for increased breastfeeding rates and creating a hospital culture that supports and encourages breastfeeding. The VMC Foundation is proud to support their work, during World Breastfeeding Week and all year long!