Funding, advocacy, forthcoming report made possible by gift from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott in 2022

BUFFALO AND SYRACUSE, NY – The Health Foundation for Western & Central New York announced a new initiative today to advance rural health equity in several counties in New York State. These efforts will build the strength of regional rural health networks through $450,000 in grants, raise awareness of health care needs in rural central and western New York, and advocate for changes to systemic issues, including funding cuts, that contribute to health disparities in rural counties.

The Health Foundation will award grants of $75,000 each to six rural health networks: Cayuga Community Health Network, Seven Valleys Health Coalition, and Madison County Rural Health Council in central New York; and Ardent Solutions, Healthy Community Alliance, and Southern Tier Health Care System in western New York. In the spirit of trust-based philanthropy, these gifts will be awarded “no strings attached” and the recipients will determine how the funds are used.

Rural health networks are collaboratives of community-based organizations and health care providers addressing the needs of people in rural communities. These networks build on cross-organizational strengths to comprehensively provide health and social care services in areas that often suffer from health care provider and facility shortages, underfunded programs, and other resource challenges.

Some examples of the diverse, compassionate work led by the networks receiving grants include: addressing maternal health needs of migrant farm workers, assisting families victimized by child abuse, providing housing to older adults and respite to caregivers, and keeping infants safe by training the public on safe sleep.

More than 86 percent of New York State is considered rural. New York’s rural communities have, overall, low numbers of primary care providers, high rates of uninsured people, and high rates of poverty, and people in rural communities are more likely to die from the five leading causes of death.

Over the past several years, rural health networks in New York have experienced a sharp decline in public funding, even as they faced additional community health needs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. In 2016, rural health programs were allocated $16.2 million. Since then, the executive budget has repeatedly reduced funding to these programs to $9.4 million.
These funding cuts create serious challenges for rural health networks as they work to improve the lives of the people they serve and meet community-wide health equity goals, such as New York State’s Prevention Agenda.

The Health Foundation’s 2022 report Community Health Needs and Opportunities in WNY’s Southern Tier highlighted systemic barriers to good health in Allegany, Cattaraugus, and Chautauqua counties. Social determinants of health such as transportation challenges, lack of health insurance, poverty, and food insecurity are drivers of health outcomes in those regions.

As a complement to that report, the Health Foundation will also fund a report of community health needs in rural central New York. The remaining $50,000 of the dedicated $500,000 will be used for this report and for a public awareness campaign that tells the story of the personal impact of rural health disparities. The goal of this work is to influence and inform public investments and policymaking around rural community health.

While the Health Foundation has always supported communities of all types, including rural and urban, as part of their mission to improve the health of people in the sixteen counties of western and central New York, this new initiative was developed after the organization received a gift of $9 million from billionaire philanthropist MacKenzie Scott in late 2022.

“Rural health networks are the backbone of community health across much of New York State, relying on their collective strength to effectively meet the needs of the people they serve. Even as they carry out that important work, they have faced highly disruptive reductions in funding over the past several years,” said Cheryl Smith Fisher, Chair, Health Foundation for Western & Central New York. “As part of a group of foundations whose focus areas include rural communities that were provided generous gifts by MacKenzie Scott in 2022, we wanted our first action with these funds to reflect her approach of unrestricted, trust-based giving.”

“We are proud to support these organizations as they work to improve lives, but we recognize that philanthropy alone cannot solve these systemic issues,” said Nora OBrien-Suric, PhD, President of the Health Foundation for Western & Central New York. “The Health Foundation will use this initiative as the opportunity to continue advocating for policy, budgetary, and regulatory changes that ensure all people in our community have the same opportunities for good health.”

“Healthy Community Alliance plays a vital role in promoting maternal and infant health across our rural service area and the funding from the Health Foundation will help us address the challenges rural mothers and families face in accessing quality health care and social services,” said Ann Battaglia, Chief Executive Officer, Healthy Community Alliance. “With this support we will be able to continue programming and collaboration with partners to better link unserved and underserved birthing families with important resources and services that lead to healthier and happier lives. On behalf of the women and families we serve, thank you so much!”

“We are grateful to the Health Foundation for Western & Central New York for their support and recognition of the vital role of rural health networks. Southern Tier Health Care System is committed to addressing the workforce shortages in rural communities, providing caregiver navigation and support, and advancing health equity,” said Donna Kahm, President and CEO, Southern Tier Health Care System. “With this funding, we will be able to make progress in these areas, and we look forward to working with our partners in the region to improve the health and well-being of all residents. Again, we thank the Health Foundation for Western & Central New York for their trust-based philanthropy, which will enable us to determine how to best use these funds to meet our communities’ unique needs.”

“Seven Valleys Health Coalition is honored to receive this support from the Health Foundation for Western & Central NY. This funding will allow us to leverage these funds to support our human capital, build stronger partnerships throughout Cortland County, and strengthen our programming to support more members of our rural community,” said Jackie Leaf, Executive Director of Seven Valleys Health Coalition. “We know that transportation access, food insecurity, substance use disorders, and maternal health are areas of need in Cortland County, and this donation will allow us to continue to support marginalized and vulnerable populations.”

“Madison County Rural Health Council would like to extend our appreciation to be recognized for all of the work we do,” said Christine Paul, Executive Director, Madison County Rural Health Council. “With the continued support of organizations like the Health Foundation for Western & Central New York, we are able to continue to educate, inform and coordinate efforts to improve the health in our community. Giving is not just about a donation. It is about making a difference.”

“The Cayuga Community Health Network is profoundly grateful to the Health Foundation for this funding opportunity. Rural health networks like ours provide critical services that focus on the Social Determinants of Health,” said Shari Weiss, Executive Director, Cayuga Community Health Network. “Many of our programs focus on the comorbidities that impact individual and community health and health outcomes. We are very fortunate that the Health Foundation sees the value in our work and shares our commitment to make health and wellness programs and services accessible to all.”

“We are so appreciative to the Health Foundation for Western & Central New York for this initiative to advance rural health equity. Rural communities face a broad range of challenges, and as a rural health network we struggle with funding cuts and limited resources needed to sustain programs and services that are important to community health and wellbeing,” said Carrie Whitwood, Executive Director, Ardent Solutions. “Ardent Solutions focuses on some of the most vulnerable populations including older adults; children and families living in poverty; and those living with chronic illness and/or disabilities. We are thankful for this financial support that will be leveraged to address some of the most critical issues facing our community today.’

The Health Foundation for Western & Central New York’s vision is a healthy central and western New York where racial and socioeconomic equity are prioritized so all people can reach their full potential and achieve equitable health outcomes. For more information, please visit