Details about nearly $2 million in grants were described Wednesday, Dec. 14, at St. Joseph Medical Center's annual meeting.
The money will fund projects in Reading to reduce violence among youth, to train inner-city residents for jobs in health care and to help prepare children to succeed in school and life.
A related grant of $260,000 will help scores of elderly in Berks and Schuylkill Counties remain safe in their homes.
Much of the funding is being provided through St. Joseph's parent organization, Catholic Health Initiatives, based in Englewood, Colo.
"We are proud to announce these grants today," hospital President and CEO John R. Morahan said.
"The recipients have earned their funding, at least in part, because of the work they have done. They are committed and talented partners who share the same ideals we do in achieving a healthier community. Each of them provides the framework for advancing health and human services in Berks community."
The Reading Youth Violence Prevention Initiative is a collaborative effort to address youth violence by creating new opportunities for participation, leadership and economic opportunity for young adults. Since 2009, St. Joseph Medical Center has been working with local leaders as well as the nationally recognized Prevention Institute on a public-health approach to reducing violence. The project is supported with $840,000 over five years.
"Violence prevention isn't often thought of as a traditional means of delivering health care, but it makes sense that St. Joseph Medical Center should be engaged in this effort," said Kelly Altland, vice president of development. As the leader of the St. Joseph Medical Center Foundation, Altland was instrumental in helping the hospital to obtain funding for all of the grants.
"We see the toll of violence every day in our emergency department. It is an epidemic that is as persistent and pervasive as any infectious or chronic disease," she said. "But there is good news: most violence is preventable - but (preventing it) is difficult work. It requires an investment of resources, people, leadership and commitment, and that's what we are here to talk about today."
Scott Rehr, the executive director of Berks Connection/Pretrial Services, led the two-year process, which involved more than 100 community leaders, as they worked with the Reading Youth Violence Prevention project to obtain the additional funding.
Rehr said the group's goal is to change the underlying conditions that contribute to violence in homes, schools and neighborhoods and to prevent violence from occurring in the first place.
His organization created a Blue Print.
The group's three goals are:
- Support positive relationships and home environments for young people.
- Enhance student and school engagement to keep young people in school.
- Improve conditions in communities most impacted by violence.
"The Blueprint is just words on paper. Its implementation will succeed but only if we collaborate and coordinate our efforts and we maintain and grow the engagement in our community," Rehr said. "To do that, we need to empower families, provide safe and positive schools and establish healthy neighborhoods."
Building Brighter Futures is an initiative funded through a federal grant procured by the St. Joseph Medical Center Foundation from the Health Resources Services Administration. It will support health-care job training at the Langan Allied Health Academy on St. Joseph's downtown Reading campus, which focuses on the largely Hispanic population in Reading's inner city.
This project will be funded through a multi-year grant of $700,000 and will recruit from the population around the inner-city locale to train students for careers in health care. It is a collaboration with Berks Technical Institute (BTI) and the Literacy Council of Reading/Berks and will recruit and train qualified nursing assistants and home-health aides.
"Our model is innovative and comprehensive. It is expressly designed to both meet the urgent and unique needs of our community," says Joseph Reichard, president of BTI. He said the model emphasizes foundational healthcare competencies; strategies, skills, and support services to promote greater job readiness and academic/career path progression; and language and literacy enrichment.
He said students' practicums, externships, and job placements will be at a wide range of nursing and rehabilitation facilities, as well as at home health and adult day care sites, in the city and the suburbs.
The Right from the Start (RFTS) program helps kids be better learners by increasing their readiness for school. The program was developed by the United Way of Berks County.
Funding for this initiative, which amounts to $250,000 over two years, adds two new components to the RFTS program.
The Ages and Stages Developmental Questionnaire (ASQ) is a scientifically-validated screening tool to identify developmental delays in children as young as 5 months old.
Play & Learn Centers (PLC) are informal, neighborhood-based parent and child activity sessions that will be offered throughout the city in churches, libraries and other locations.
Intervention before kindergarten has significant academic, social, and economic benefits, Altland said, noting that studies have shown that children who receive early treatment for developmental delays are more likely to graduate from high school, hold jobs, live independently, and avoid teen pregnancy, delinquency, and violent crime.
She said such intervention can save society $30,000 to $100,000 per child.
The Ages and Stages Developmental Questionnaire is a well-known, scientifically-validated developmental screening tool recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. It is administered in St. Joseph's downtown Reading pediatrics clinic to help identify developmental delays in children as early as 5 months old who can be referred for further monitoring or early intervention.
Since November 2009, the downtown campus staff has administered 1,155 ASQ assessments, and has found:
- 38 percent of the children assessed were developmentally on target for their age.
- 22 percent tested at borderline, and parents received education and training to help their child become school ready and meet the developmental standards.
- 40 percent of the children were identified as delayed. The questionnaire coordinator provided additional education and referred the families to early intervention with Berks County Intermediate Unit or Service Access Management.
"We have seen important yet distressing results. The national average shows one in six children who were administered the ASQ have an identified developmental delay. In Reading, we are seeing an average of three out of five," Altland said.
The second component of this grant is the establishment of Play & Learn Centers (PLC) in collaboration with The Salvation Army.
Mindy McCormick, the Salvation Army's director of social services, described the Play and Learn Centers as informal, neighborhood-based parent and child activity sessions, with the goal of working with parents of at-risk children at the earliest stages in order to intervene and encourage healthy development.
"If parents and caregivers are provided information, referrals, support and opportunities to stimulate healthy development, the percentage of disadvantaged children entering kindergarten with developmental delays will decrease," she explained.
Neighbors Helping Neighbors is a collaboration between St. Joseph and Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Allentown to expand the outreach and volunteer base in Berks and southern Schuylkill counties to help older adults stay in their homes safely for as long as possible.
It is also hoped the program, funded at $260,000 over three years, will significantly improve access to social services and health care.
Sister Janet Henry, St. Joseph's vice president of mission and ministry, noted that the number of elderly requiring services will increase dramatically over the next two decades. They are living longer and wish to remain in their homes.
That means informal support networks provided by family and friends are being taxed more heavily, she said, and studies show that successful aging-in-place strategies minimize inadequate and inappropriate care as well as the overall costs of that care by offering a range of flexible services to fit the needs of the individual.
Pamela Russo, assistant director of Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Allentown, said the vision for Neighbors Helping Neighbors "is to provide the benefits of friendship, companionship, assistance, and spiritual care. We hope to enhance, in every dimension, the fullness of life of elders living in their community independently."
She said the volunteers will lend a helping hand to elders, serve as their advocates, and help them stay connected to their communities and to help them enjoy a fullness of life residing in their own homes and to participate as fully as possible in the life of the community. She said the program will be offered in cooperation with churches and families, community organizations, health care providers and agencies serving elders.
"The key word we have heard today is 'partner.' As St. Joseph, like all hospitals, prepares for health care reform, partnering will be more important than ever before, Morahan said as the annual meeting closed.
"Strong collaborations with different organizations build healthy communities."