After back surgery and an extended stay in the hospital, Savannah, Ga. resident Denet Whitfield found herself out of a job and without a source of income. She couldn't even afford groceries and feared losing her apartment. After reaching out to several government agencies for help, she was eventually referred to St. Joseph's/Candler Health System's St. Mary's Community Center and Health Center, a community outreach initiative dedicated to helping people in the poorest neighborhoods in Chatham County, Ga. improve their quality of life.
"When someone answered on the other end of the line, I felt hope immediately," Whitfield recalls. "Now every time I walk into the building I feel safe."
St. Mary's helped Whitfield get stabilized and assisted her in setting up and providing transportation to and from several medical appointments at the Health Center. She received a new pair of glasses at the center's eye clinic, and attends healthy cooking classes as well as a dance class at the Community Center.
"Whatever state you are in, they accept you and want you to be better," Whitfield says. "My self- esteem has really increased since coming to St. Mary's, and my health has also improved."
In addition to helping people like Whitfield get healthy and connect with other community members, St. Mary's also offers General Education Development (GED) test preparation, money management counseling, job training skills, after-school tutoring and a preschool program, thanks to the efforts of St. Joseph's/Candler. The recent recipient of the 2012 Foster G. McGaw Prize for Excellence in Community Service, sponsored by The Baxter International Foundation, the American Hospital Association (AHA) and Health Research & Educational Trust, St. Joseph's/Candler was honored for its multifaceted programs that have improved quality of life and access to healthcare for the surrounding area.
"St. Joseph's/Candler Health System and the finalist organizations are outstanding examples of how community outreach is improving the health of our local communities and making a real difference in people's lives," said Donna Namath, Executive Director, The Baxter International Foundation. "Through sponsorship of the Foster McGaw Prize, The Baxter International Foundation celebrates excellence in community service."
Each year, this $100,000 prize is presented to a healthcare organization that provides innovative programs that significantly improve the health and well-being of its community. The long-running prize, first awarded in 1986, inspires hospitals, health systems and communities to assess and implement impactful healthcare initiatives. St. Joseph's/Candler programs such as the health and human services found at St. Mary's Community Center and Health Center, free computer access available through the African-American Health Information and Resource Center and free healthcare at the Good Samaritan Clinic, have impacted the lives of diverse community members who previously lacked adequate healthcare due to financial or accessibility limitations.
St. Joseph/Candler's also partners with the Internal Revenue Service and about 30 volunteers each year to prepare taxes for many of the center's "working poor." The Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program has grown from 65 tax returns prepared in 2002, with total combined refunds just shy of $100,000, to 745 tax returns filed in 2012, with a combined refund value of $1.5 million. Much of this money is then put back into the local economy through resident spending at restaurants and retail services, says Sister Pat Baber, director of St. Mary's Community Center, St. Mary's Health Center and the Good Samaritan Clinic.
"With the VITA program, the tax returns these folks get are also spent on extremely important everyday items like medication, paying the water or electricity bill or even buying a bed," Baber says. "Before this program many of them never would have dreamed of getting a tax return."
The $100,000 that St. Joseph's/Candler has been awarded through the McGaw Prize will go towards continuing the important work of these programs, as well as several other initiatives the Health System spearheads within the community to bridge the gap in healthcare access and coverage in its community, and promote a healthier lifestyle among residents.
"We have always believed that external factors strongly influence good health, including safe and adequate housing, education, access to information and meaningful employment," says Paul P. Hinchey, President & CEO, St. Joseph's/Candler Health System. "This award honors our community partners and the Savannah community in general, for focusing on the social determinants of a healthy person."