Site Profile: Spartanburg’s Way to Wellville

Spartanburg is a small town with big drive to fix complex problems. The commitment of community leaders to address entrenched health disparities has been called a “holistic and whole-hearted approach.” A driving force behind the community’s engagement is the Mary Black Foundation.

“The Mary Black Foundation has an important role in the Spartanburg community as a convener, partner, and advocate,” says Kathy Dunleavy, the foundation’s CEO.  “The foundation is developing an outcome-focused grantmaking approach to improve the likelihood of success for its investments, and strengthen the capacity of nonprofits to focus on and achieve intended results.”

Current Standing: Spartanburg County ranks 12 healthiest of 46 counties in South Carolina in overall health outcomes according to the County Health Rankings.

Leader of the Initiative: Philanthropic foundation

Collaborative: Multi-sector partnerships, including those outside of health care delivery

Potential Financing Mechanism Being Explored: Pay for Success

Community Goals: Engage the broader community around existing health initiatives.

The Mary Black Foundation is a private foundation dedicated to improving the health of Spartanburg County by advancing the priority areas of early childhood development and healthy eating/active living. The foundation invested over $2.4 million last year in funding and technical assistance to nonprofit organizations that serve Spartanburg County.

The foundation recognizes the importance of engaging partners in these efforts to leverage resources through creative collaborations. Spartanburg has received unprecedented national attention for its comprehensive community health improvement efforts, including the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Culture of Health Prize. The Mary Black Foundation has not only funded many of these programs, but it also serves as the backbone organization by convening outside partners and coordinating initiatives.

Impacting Non-Traditional Health Drivers

In trying to make progress against seemingly tough-to-overcome health challenges, many of the community’s initiatives target upstream determinants of health. For instance, recognizing that health is impacted by factors beyond a doctor’s care AccessHealth Spartanburg is connecting low-income residents to medical homes and providing wrap-around case management services that focus on the social determinants of health. These efforts have led to a 42 percent reduction in hospital costs. This broad vision to create systemic change and improved quality of care for low-income, uninsured residents in Spartanburg County, will impact health outcomes and lower costs for all.

Additionally, efforts to revitalize the Northside neighborhood have focused on upstream drivers of health, including: safe and affordable housing, recreation opportunities, financial services for residents, and quality education.

HICCup funded a consortium of community health improvement efforts under the Way to Wellville collaborative in Spartanburg. Way to Wellville’s collaborative efforts focus on five measures of health and economic vitality, including: care and health for the insured, obesity prevention, kindergarten readiness, and community pride.

The Spartanburg Academic Movement is working to expand high-quality early care and education programs to increase kindergarten readiness, reading and math proficiency, as well as high school and post-secondary graduation rates, while reducing avoidable expenditures on remediation. With assistance from the Social Innovation Fund, the City of Spartanburg is exploring implementing Pay for Success financing to improve outcomes for young children.

So Many Opportunities to Innovate

With all of the recognition that Spartanburg has received, there are many community health initiatives ripe for furthering collaboration and innovation. Bridging for Health efforts will focus on:

  • Aligning the work of Spartanburg’s Way to Wellville and the Road to Better Health to achieve greater efficiency.
  • Exploring financing innovations to support Way to Wellville’s collaborative efforts.

“What is exciting about this group is their enthusiasm for improving health,” says Beverly Tyler, a consultant for the Georgia Health Policy Center. “They have gotten some wonderful results in increasing access to care and reducing teen pregnancy rates.  They are also focused on several other initiatives, like creating a culture of health and improving early-childhood education, that demonstrate their commitment to making Spartanburg a healthy, livable community.”

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