Like most organizations, the Aberdeen Health Foundation took a step back to consider what needed to be done differently when COVID-19 hit Nova Scotia. Working and meeting remotely were givens; the big questions were about how to identify urgent health needs and what support the Foundation could bring to those needs. The uncharted territory of being a health care charity during a pandemic brought uncertainty but also incredible gratitude that our Foundation was in a strong position to respond to the circumstances unfolding.
At our April Board meeting, each director shared thoughts on how the Aberdeen Health Foundation could be most helpful to our community in the days ahead. From the varied perspectives at our “Zoom” table, the desire to do something was palpable, but just what to do was less clear.
Four themes arose from that discussion and they continue to guide our ongoing efforts.
- Support mental health initiatives
- Consider health equity and barriers to good health across the population
- Be a supportive partner and responsive to urgent health needs
- Support innovation and long-term thinking in health care
To bring greater clarity and context to these themes, our staff conducted extensive outreach to our Nova Scotia Health and agency partners to offer support and gather information on local needs and priorities. The response from our partners was one of tremendous appreciation. The Aberdeen Health Foundation’s position as a trusted, supportive community partner was evident. We continue to listen and learn, and we have done our best to respond to requests as quickly as possible.
The Foundation’s role as a reliable, consistent funder for health care in Pictou County has never been more important. Medical equipment needs at the Aberdeen are significant. With an MRI ($2.87M), two Digital Radiography Units ($565K each), and a Digital Mammography System ($462K) on our equipment needs list, it is easy to see how diagnostic imaging alone could expend the entire budget of any health foundation for several years.
Meanwhile, it is understood that the health of many in our community can be dramatically improved through investments in health programs, both inside and outside the walls of the hospital. The needs of these programs don’t come to us on provincially generated, priority ranked lists as medical equipment does. Requests for support for these important areas of care come from Nova Scotia Health as well as many local agencies that work hard to improve health outcomes in Pictou County.
The majority of the funds held by the Foundation are endowed for distinct purposes, and the decisions for allocating income from these endowments are bound by that purpose. The Foundation also receives unrestricted funds from donors. How to deploy these for greatest impact on the health of our population is the topic of many thought-provoking conversations among our Board. The pandemic has certainly elevated those discussions, in particular around the themes mentioned above. In 2021, the Foundation will revisit our strategic plan with the emerging opportunities and health care innovations in mind.
As was the case before COVID-19 became part of daily life, philanthropy in the health sector is incredibly important, perhaps now more than ever. With the financial crisis that COVID brought, we anticipated a downturn in donations. Among those impacted were the many groups that give generously to the Aberdeen Health Foundation year after year who were unable to host their fundraising events in 2020. And yet, these organizations still sent what they could in the circumstances. These gifts were unexpected and heartwarming, and they highlight our community’s strong commitment to support health care in Pictou County.
Despite uncertainty in the charitable sector, the Health Foundation was able to proceed with its planning, support, and COVID response without hesitation thanks to revenues from our significant investment portfolio. This brings me to an important note of thanks to the Investment Committee of the Foundation. In these extraordinary times, the expertise, steadiness, and calm that I witnessed from these volunteers was equally extraordinary. They shouldered their responsibility with incredible care and determination, always balancing risk with the need to maintain capital and generate income. We owe them a debt of gratitude.
Indeed, our staff, board, and committee volunteers served Pictou County with purpose and compassion through their Foundation work in 2020. I thank everyone for remaining positive and unwavering as we worked together to support those on the front lines of health delivery and those who needed their services. It has been a year we won’t forget.
Robyn Eaton, Chair
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR REPORT
In looking back to report on 2020, there seems to be a sharp dividing line between life before Friday, March 13th and life after. By Monday, March 16th, the Board, its Committees, and staff began working remotely and continued to do so through the remainder of the year.
In many ways, the transition was seamless; with virtual meeting platforms, every opportunity to see a face from outside one’s household was welcome, even if it was on screen. But in truth, the change has been profound. While there is an efficiency, economy, and democracy to the virtual meeting space, it also lacks the spontaneity and energy that often fuels creativity. While it’s great to be able to tightly manage one’s time and meeting schedule, gone is the possibility of someone popping into the Foundation office to chat about a program idea they have. And we have greatly missed visits with donors, which are often accompanied by uplifting stories behind their donation.
Nonetheless, there was a particular urgency to the work. Staff moved quickly to support the Board of Directors in its efforts to understand how the pandemic was affecting the health and wellbeing of our community. Through outreach to our stakeholders, a number of opportunities for impact were identified. This included medical equipment that could enhance our hospital’s ability to respond in the event of a surge in COVID patients.
To better understand emergent needs, Staff also conducted one-on-one outreach to frontline organizations that serve vulnerable populations. Particular attention was paid to barriers in accessing essential services during the lockdown. For example, with the introduction of public health protocols for wearing masks to enter essential businesses, the Foundation coordinated a donation to fund a reusable mask initiative with masks being distributed in our community through our partner network of frontline agencies.
The Foundation works to advance health on two fronts, within the health system and in the community. We work to build bridges between the two whenever possible. Through Pictou County’s Mental Wellness Roundtable, an initiative the Foundation has actively supported, important relationships have been forged between frontline agencies and Nova Scotia Health Mental Health & Addictions. Such relationships lay the groundwork for the health system to leverage important assets that exist in the community, particularly when all share a common objective. The Foundation is engaged in similar initiatives in the area of primary care and is pleased to be working to bring relevant parties together to expand and enhance programs with the ultimate aim of improving health outcomes in Pictou County.
I am pleased to have played a role in supporting the many initiatives that were spearheaded by the Board’s committees, which includes Acquisitions and Resource Management, Community Relations, Finance Audit & Risk Management, Governance, and Population Health. I would like to extend thanks to Administrative Coordinator, Deelle Hines who has been a tremendous addition to the team and serves the organization with dedication and heart. It has been a pleasure to work with our Board of Directors and to support our Board Chair as she works with great care to ensure all voices are fully engaged in the work of the Aberdeen Health Foundation. Even though we are all arm’s length, these relationships are more important than ever.
Michelle Ferris, Executive Director