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.

Please.

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

gingiegingerbread.

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.

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!

The Standard American Diet is SAD

 

dennisDennis Low is a recently-retired physician who spent his career at Valley Medical Center. He’s a beloved caregiver, educator, and new VMC Foundation Board Member. We play together in the VMC “house band” Idol Hands (hence, the picture) and have become good friends.

Which explains why he invited me this morning to hear him give a talk to our docs – and blew a lot of minds.

Now, none of what Dennis told us about Americans’ diets was his own research…but he compiled it like a man whose spent his life teaching others and ensuring they remember what they hear.  For example, everyone knows that America has an obesity problem, but did you know that the Centers for Disease Control now warns that immigrating to the United States can make you sick?

And how about this: In 1976, Americans were eating an average of eight pounds of cheese per person, per year. By 2013, according to the USDA, we’re eating 33.5 pounds!

…and by “we”, I mean “not me.” I’m vegan, and know a lot of vegans. That means that for each of us who consume zero pounds of cheese per year, there’s some dude who is putting away 67 pounds.

That sounds ridiculous. But then, so is this: 16% of American men between the ages of 18 and 35 eat pizza EVERY. SINGLE. DAY. There is no other country that even comes close to our 35% obese adult population.

How about that pizza company that’s now stuffing cheese into the crusts of ever-increasing sizes of XXXL pizzas? Have we gone mad? And because I like pointing out the enemy as much as I like rhetorical questions: Who convinced us that cheese was good n’ healthy in the first place? Why, the American Dairy Association and Milk Advisory Board of course, who spend increasing millions every year. They lobby to reduce their costs. They lobby to ban soy milk (you can’t make this up; google it while you’re looking at how much they spend influencing congress).

And they advertise. To kids. When I was little, I must have seen that “educational” cartoon “I Hanker for a Hunk of Cheese” 500 times. Ring a bell? If you’re near my age, I bet you remember it.

Obviously cheese is not the only contributor to our country’s high calorie/low nutrition diet. Even many vegans (and I’m WAY guilty here) eat too much vegetable oil, bagels, salt, sugar and delicious, delicious French fries. It’s led to doctors like Dennis Low to consider the adipose tissue (fat) around our bellies a quasi-organ.

Yes! Your visceral fat is driving your appetite, causing the production and release of hormones…acting like a pancreas or something. How scary is that? No wonder it’s hard to lose weight; your fat has a mind of its own.

Another system in your body influenced by your diet is your intestinal microbiota, or “gut flora”. All those little bugs in your digestive system that aren’t “you”, per se, but are living things that effect not just digestion, but cell division, metabolism, and much more. You have around three pounds of them in you right now, and if you eat a plant-based diet, they are good bugs. A meat-heavy diet? Bad bugs.

This is evidenced by rates of cancer, stroke and longevity across cultures. I know you know all that in general, but I learned today from Dennis that, for example, Seventh-Day Adventists have remarkably long lives and low incidences of chronic disease. They eat, as a matter of religious practice, plant-based diets. This is coincidentally of interest to me because each summer, for a week, thousands of 7DA believers congregate very near my house in the Santa Cruz Mountains above Soquel, CA. They happen to be there this week as I write this! Until Dennis’s talk, I knew little about them…and now I know, at least, that among whatever else they’re doing at their massive conference center they are preparing and enjoying a lot of plant-based meals!

Sorry – the point really is that the body of evidence is growing that our nation’s diet is killing us, and that a plant-based diet is better for us. Dennis suggested to all our doctors to avoid “naming” diets, and suggesting to patients easy ways to slowly change their habits; “Stop going to Burger King and go vegan” is advice rarely taken. “Try eating more colorful, fresh veggies and fruit more often” is more manageable.

I could copy a dozen links here on healthy eating, but you know where to find all that. I just really appreciated watching a skilled educator keep a big room full of busy doctors enthralled for an hour this morning. I am going to have a carrot later in Dennis’s honor. And if you really want to know more, send Dr. Dennis Low an email at dennislow@comcast.net – or take him out to lunch!

President Cortese: “If we are bold,” we can stop diabetes

President Dave Cortese gave his “State of the County” address on Tuesday, January 27 to a packed house at San Jose’s Montgomery Theater. He spoke about many of our county’s pressing problems, and in each case, how we can only solve them if we work together.

That sounds cliché, but it’s really not: If homelessness was easy to end, wouldn’t someone have done it already? If steering kids away from gangs and drugs had a step-by-step manual, we’d follow it wouldn’t we? Sadly they don’t, which is why I was glad to hear President Cortese’s call to unite across our differences and work together on solutions.  No single tech genius or business leader or dynamic politician can do this alone.

Such is the case with diabetes, which affects hundreds of thousands of our county’s residents. 40 million Americans have “pre-diabetes”, according to the American Diabetes Association, and alarmingly, most who have it don’t know it. This is why President Cortese is calling for increased screenings to catch pre-diabetes before it gets worse. Type-2 diabetes used to be called “Adult-Onset Diabetes”. No more. Valley Medical Center’s pediatricians have been fighting this disease in children for too long.

The VMC Foundation has been fighting with them. Through grant funding, we helped launch VMC’s Pediatric Healthy Lifestyle Center led today by the amazing Antonia Charles, MD. Our Turning Wheels for Kids program aims to get kids off the couch and pedaling their own brand-new bike. With The Health Trust, we opened a Farmers Market on VMC’s main campus. With our partners El Camino Healthcare District and Kaiser Permanente, grant dollars become innovative programs at VMC’s health centers and specialty centers to battle diabetes every day.

But, as President Cortese said, we have to do more.

His colleague, Supervisor Ken Yeager, will be leading the fight against diabetes and he’s already recruiting soldiers. The VMC Foundation vows to continue our role in this fight, as we’ve done for decades.  Thank you for your leadership, President Cortese. We stand with you.

To read President Cortese’s State of the County address, click here.

The State of the County, 2014

President Wasserman with me, dressed as an ear of corn for the opening of our Farmers Market last year. I mean me dressed as corn, not him.

President Wasserman with me, dressed as an ear of corn for the opening of our Farmers Market last year. I mean me dressed as corn, not him.

One of the less-obvious parts of our work at the VMC Foundation is our collaboration with Santa Clara County’s elected officials. It’s work that I very much enjoy, and I think it makes us a more successful non-profit; when we’re best supporting our public medical center, it’s as we support the leadership of the County at its highest level.

This is why I was excited to hear the priorities of our County’s new President, Mike Wasserman. He’s served on the Board of Supervisors since 2010 and as the incoming President, gave his “State of the County Address” on January 28.  On a personal note, he’s a fellow Los Gatoan and a great guy.

Here are a couple of highlights from his speech, and how they relate to the work of the VMC Foundation:

  • Combating homelessness. “Wealthy” Silicon Valley, sadly, continues to face this complex problem. President Wasserman has been an advocate for years of finding solutions, and made mention of the fact that it’s not just a matter of compassion; it’s also a taxpayer issue. “A chronically homeless person costs society $60,000 a year [in medical, law enforcement and related costs] while the solution [providing them a place to live] costs half that.” This is a bold political statement, yet we know it’s true. The VMC Foundation is helping by funding programs that reduce re-admission rates to VMC’s busy Emergency Department through social service and referrals. Hand in hand, homeless advocates like HomeFirst and Destination Home and Valley Medical Center are making it more possible to house the homeless and build lives.
  • Traffic Safe Communities. President Wasserman chairs the newly-formed Traffic Safe Communities Network in Santa Clara County, and I’m proud to be a new member. Working with valley leaders from many sectors—and led by our Public Health Department—we are working to reduce traffic injuries and fatalities while providing safer pedestrian/bike access to schools and work.
  • The Center for Leadership and Transformation. This is an initiative across county departments to examine ways the county provides services and improve upon them. Yes, all of them! Employee-led and executive-sponsored, the VMC Foundation is involved in Valley Medical Center’s efforts as we promote the CLT and collect/share best practices.

President Wasserman in known for having a “head for numbers and a heart for people”, and I feel strongly that his State of the County Address reflected that. I’m also confident that 2014 will be a year of moving forward for our county, the 16,000 people employed by it, and the two million people living in it.

Here’s the full text of President Wasserman’s address.

Concussions: When in doubt, sit ’em out!

Pop Warner CoachesI’ve never seen so many big, bald dudes in one room at the same time. Yes—these are my people.

But seriously… the event Sunday, July 21 was extremely important and the VMC Foundation is proud to have helped make it happen. 700 Pop Warner Football and Cheer coaches from around California assembled in San Jose to learn about spotting, preventing and treating concussions.

And they learned from our experts,  Valley Medical Center’s specialists:  Henry Huie, MD, Associate Chief of Physical Medicine & Rehab; Stephanie Kolakowsky-Hayner, PhD, Director of the Rehab Research Center; Gaurav Abbi, MD,  Chief of Spine Service, Dept. of Orthopedic Surgery and Kimberly Archie, CEO of the Cheer Safety Foundation. The theme of the day relates to ANY indication that a young athlete may have sustained a concussion on the field: When in doubt, sit ‘em out! (and then follow very specific protocols to assess and get treatment for an injury, of course).

You might be thinking: So how did a huge group of huge tough guys take hearing from brainiac doctors in suits? This, from Don Preble, President of Almaden Pop Warner and co-planner of the conference: “I can’t begin to tell you all just how spectacular this presentation was. Never in the 14 years I have been involved with Pop Warner have I seen 500 Football coaches sitting on the edge of their seats and listening with enthusiastic anticipation for the next piece of information.”

The coaches also heard from Chris Bauerle, a former patient of VMC’s Rehab Center. His own story of a life-threatening brain injury on the football field is frankly WAY more compelling. Chris is also a member of our peer support team at VMC, helping people with new injuries.  As if that weren’t enough star-power, we had Dan Garza, MD, team doctor for the 49’ers and Jon Butler, National President of Pop Warner who both flew out for the conference and supported the teachings.

The media was all over this event, as we’ve heard so much more lately about the tragic results of concussions leading to long-term disabilities—from the NFL on down. Of course, it’s not just football and cheerleading either, and we’re confident that this awareness will only grow.

If your employer blocks video, you can also see this great article from the Mercury News on the event. A huge thanks to Don, Laura, Stephanie, Henry, PRx and everyone who helped make young athletes safer.

It’s time to re-think charity…for the good of us all.

SitHappy-00022IMGL9901

When I first watched Dan Pallotta’s TED talk, I wound up yelling back at my computer screen: “That’s IT! That’s what I’ve been trying to say!”

Of course Pallotta, the founder of the AIDS Ride, said it far better than I could. His talk, “The way we think about charity is dead wrong”, lit a fire under me and many of my colleagues in the public benefit sector. He discusses why salary ranges are all wrong, why marketing and advertising is undervalued, and why the mission and potential of a charity (like the VMC Foundation) is more important than that of a video game company…yet the double-standard of for-profit vs. non-profit keeps societal problems from getting solved.

He also points out something getting new traction: The amount a charity spends on “overhead” – meaning fundraising and administration – is a poor measure of their worthiness. Now, a letter written by the leaders of three leading charity watchdogs called The Overhead Myth, is making the case in a loud and clear voice.

I would add to this conversation that another area where charities under-participate is in issue advocacy. Many nonprofits believe they are not allowed to get involved in politics, and in some cases that’s true. But in others, like the county Measure A campaign in 2008, the VMC Foundation was the largest donor. Why? Because a victory would mean a new hospital building and seismic compliance for Valley Medical Center. Seriously – how could we NOT have been involved? It was the very definition of “go big or go home” for us. By the way, we won, and the Sobrato Pavilion opens next year as perhaps the finest public hospital building in the nation.

So we learned a lot in 2008, and we applied it again last year in another “Measure A” campaign. This time, the $400,000,000 generated over the next decade will support county services that include fully funding the Children’s Health Initiative—ensuring that every child in our county has health coverage. This is not just good, but GREAT for Valley Medical Center…and more importantly, for our young patients.

Is issue advocacy a risk? You bet it is. We failed in 2010 with a similar ballot measure, and I wish we had that money back! But the private sector risks all the time, and frankly, Silicon Valley rewards aiming high and failing when it’s followed up by trying again. The public benefit sector has too much expertise and mission alignment to be sidelined when issues like hunger, homelessness and health become the subjects of political decisions.

Charities need to be bold, take calculated risks, and be measured not by the smallness of their spending but by the largeness of their dreams.