Healthy People Senior Program Officer Heather Torok discusses the importance of partnerships.

Q: Has the notion of partnership been part of the Foundation’s DNA since you began in 2012?

HT: Yes, it really has been part and parcel of what we aim to do here. It’s ingrained in the culture of Saint Luke’s Foundation – how do we think beyond the checks that we’re writing, and how can we be helpful, be an asset, and be a partner? It’s something that’s always been here, and today it’s stronger than ever. Partnership is imperative to getting our work done.


Q: How might partnerships evolve between the Foundation and outside stakeholders in the years ahead?

HT: I think the effort to build partnerships is a pretty organic process, and it’s largely needs-based. In other words, partnerships develop based on what needs to be done on the ground. I see that continuing.  One of the things that I love about this work, and that I’m super grateful for, is the ability to develop authentic relationships – it’s part of the culture of who we are.


Q: You’ve pointed to a recent collaboration around the health home model of care – a Foundation Healthy People priority – as a strong example of partnership in action. Can you tell us how that has unfolded, and what potential that offers neighborhood residents?

HT: In a previous grant cycle, we awarded a grant to hire a consultant to help several organizations – The Centers for Families and Children, Neighborhood Family Progress, Care Alliance Health Center and FrontLine Service – work together and partner. They’re doing some collaborative work already, but this grant challenged them to think deeper about how they might look at behavioral and primary care more cohesively—that was the impetus. That cohesive approach may develop through co-location, or through a service like pharmacy, or coming together around pushing the state on reimbursement rates. It was really exploratory – the consultant was charged with determining how they can effect bigger change. The organizational leaders were involved, but, additionally, some of the board and staff members were involved as well. It can be a challenge to get several members of several organizations in the same room, let alone rowing in the same direction.


Q: As a Senior Program Officer for a foundation that actively seeks to build and nurture partnerships at the neighborhood level, as well as with local and state legislators, how can grantees, potential grantees and community stakeholders work constructively with you?

HT: I want to emphasize that we are open to real and honest conversations. This is how we learn. Our grantee partners, as well as potential grantees, are the experts in this work. We value their openness, their honesty and their courage in discussing issues and challenges, hopefully leading to collaborative solutions.


Q: Even with grantees as partners, is there concern on their end that, by being open with you about their challenges, they might be putting their funding at risk?

HT: Again, when we attempt to make real impacts in our program strategy’s areas of emphasis – reducing obesity and promoting the health home model of care – it comes down to honesty and trust. As partners in this work, our grantees need to know that it’s okay to change course—or even fail. Of course, we hope that the outcomes we initially approved are met when they come in. But that doesn’t always happen. And sometimes, there’s a perception that our interest only lies in the specific narrow or niche grant being made. In reality, it’s very helpful to learn all about what our grantee partners are doing and to have ongoing dialogue, because it provides context and fills out the entire story.