Building Strong(er) Stakeholder Relationships is a Win-Win for your Health Center

Today’s post is from Rich Napolitano, Senior Vice President/Chief Strategy Officer, Greater Lawrence Family Health Center – Chair, NACHC Advocacy Task Force

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren (MA) and U.S. Representative Lori Trahan (MA-3)

Greater Lawrence Family Health Center (GLFHC) was founded in 1980.  It is the medical home to over 60,000 registered patients and is the second largest in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.  It is home to our nation’s first Community Health Center owned and operated Teaching Health Center, the Lawrence Family Medicine Residency program (LFMR) which has graduated over 200 family medicine physicians since 1994.  GLFHC is the largest primary care network of clinicians in our region with over 120 providers and has the distinction of being the only federally qualified Healthcare for the Homeless program north of Boston – serving over 1,300 homeless patients throughout the region.  There is certainly a lot to be proud of here at GLFHC, and it is the most rewarding job I have ever held.  I know we could not do what we do without our unique stakeholders – the people who depend on us: our patients, as well as the people we depend on such as donors and friends at all levels of the public and private sector.

Who our stakeholders are and where they come from, may actually be closer than they appear – and closer than what we are accustomed to with just our patients, board members, and staff.  If the COVID pandemic has shown us in the Health Center movement anything during the last eighteen months, it has been how important our relationships with ALL of our stakeholders can be.  These are not only our friends from our legislative delegation at the local, state, and federal level.  They also represent a wider variety of people beyond that, including area businesses and other community benefit organizations and partners.  I contend that after what we have all been through with this health crisis, we must not ever forget that.

Stakeholders do represent our donors, government and legislative leaders, providers, such as clinicians and even our vendors, and of course the consumers of our services, which are our patients.  If anything positive came out of the pandemic thus far, we have seen an expansion in who needs our services – who our potential customers could be in the future.  Relationships were formed that had never been there before.  Those donors from the business community were looking to us to help make sure their employees were not contracting this awful illness through our Stop the Spread testing program.  When the vaccine became available, they were depending on us to make sure they were protected or, at the very least, educated about the importance of the getting the vaccine for herd immunity.  The stakeholder relationship is a win-win for all involved.

New Balance CEO Joe Preston getting his second dose of the COVID vaccine

While working with my colleagues on the COVID testing and then the challenging vaccine rollout, it became more apparent how dependent our communities are on Community Health Centers – regardless of whether or not they were our patients.  GLFHC has over 60,000 registered patients that depend on us for their healthcare, and each of them identify one of our seven clinical sites as their medical home.  Like many of our community health center brethren throughout the Commonwealth and the country, we experienced a similar but basic phenomenon during this crisis – we were needed more than ever.  The traditional stakeholder relationships we depended on were expanding right before our eyes with businesses and organizations reaching out for help and collaborative opportunities to make sure their employees and others were properly cared for, no matter the circumstances.  Our health center, along with our outstanding frontline team of pharmacy staff, along with nurses and clinicians, were now getting more exposure in the community with large businesses as well as public and private school districts in the region.  They needed us and, frankly, we needed them.

Working with companies that had supported us in the past through philanthropy like New Balance and the Gem Group, we now had the opportunity to give back to them – to provide the best in class healthcare we were known for and ensure that their employees were protected.  Key members of our team, our chief medical officer and myself served on various committees throughout the region with a number of these stakeholders so as to ensure that all who wanted the vaccine were able to receive it.   We also provided education to combat vaccine hesitancy and participated in various outreach and marketing campaigns to do the same.  The same held true with the school districts – ALL OF THEM called on us for help with testing and the vaccine.  We worked tirelessly with area legislators, mayors, and boards of health to make sure those who wanted the vaccine, had access to the vaccine and we brought it to them if necessary.  Our reputation was solid, but we were not always called on before – but now we were needed and it felt good.  It felt right.  Going forward, it now gives us an opportunity to expand what we do in our community – expand access to quality healthcare for young and old alike and expanding access is what our mission is all about.  This pandemic gave us the opportunity to promote our mission more than ever, and in a broader sense, under very challenging circumstances.

In the end, we will look back at this time and be very grateful for building these strong stakeholder relationships beyond what we saw as “traditional”.  It has been a win-win for our Health Center, but it just took us a little longer to realize that they were closer than they appeared.

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