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Foundation investing in a healthier Rochester

Rochester Business Journal
August 2, 2013

John Urban measures the impact of the first six years of the Greater Rochester Health Foundation one success at a time, one partnership at a time.
Urban, the Health Foundation's president and CEO, has overseen a period of expansion in the organization. Since the foundation started in 2006 with $200 million, it has awarded $28 million in grants while also growing by $28 million.
The grants have been provided largely to improve health care delivery and prevention efforts that make the Rochester area healthier and its health care system stronger. But in quantifying that success, Urban prefers to look at each program individually.
Measuring results is not too hard for the foundation, given its efforts to gather benchmark data before the programs started. It did a countywide assessment of body mass index for children, for example, and another is in the works to gauge the effectiveness of obesity prevention programs.
"Some efforts there are very specific ways to see how we've done, like depression management and hypertension, where we literally measure our program on an annual basis and know whether we're meeting our objectives," Urban says. "In hypertension efforts, we work with four large practices and set a goal of improving the percentage of their parents with hypertension under control over three years. Each of the four practices we're working with has met that goal."
Throughout the community, therefore, approximately 6,000 more people with hypertension have it under control than were being treated successfully three years ago.
"For us, it's easier to measure impact on a program-by-program basis than to see how we've made an overall impact," Urban says.
A community's overall health status typically will be determined 20 percent by its health care delivery and 80 percent by personal health habits, Urban says, so that is where GRHF concentrates its efforts.
To achieve its goals, the foundation has developed partnerships so it can meet people in need on their own ground. The foundation has worked with the Rochester City School District in childhood obesity prevention, with what Urban calls a "significant expansion" in the last few years.
The foundation has also worked closely with the YMCA of Greater Rochester and the city of Rochester's Department of Recreation and Youth Services to focus on pro-grams promoting healthy living for kids, Urban says.
"What's happened in the last few years is our partnerships have grown stronger," he says. "If you think about it, a foundation has to be able to partner with groups, since we offer no direct services, and one of the things we've learned since starting is how important incredibly good partners are."
The partnership with the YMCA already has brought great results, Urban notes. In June, the foundation received a White House Champions of Change Award for its work with the YMCA to prevent diabetes, increase the number of urban families at a healthy weight and make improvements at the aging Maplewood YMCA branch.
"We take a strategic business approach to fulfilling our mission to improve the health status of all residents of the Greater Rochester community, which includes nine counties," says Essie Calhoun-McDavid, the foundation's board chairwoman. "We think of our role as finding, funding and measuring, meaning we identify the most pressing health issues in our community, fund outcome-focused programs to address those problems, and contract with professional evaluators to measure results.
"When we fund the YMCA of Greater Rochester, we are investing in programs that can create sustainable health improvement."
These partners cannot be chosen lightly, Urban adds. Nearly all of the foundation's grants have measurable objectives, so the non-profit needs partners that have the capability to measure outcomes and achieve these goals.
"We've been more familiar with who shares a similar philosophy," Urban notes.
The foundation has made 10-year commitments to its childhood obesity program and neighborhood health improvement programs, and though decisions do not come without much consideration, Urban says other focus areas could be added in the future.
"We don't change our focus easily or lightly, but we are in the process of seeing if there is another long-term area where we want to put our efforts as well," he says.

8/2/13 (c) 2013 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

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