GHPC is leading a national effort to advance the practice of establishing and using local wellness funds to improve community health and well-being.
Housing, education, poverty, food availability, access to safe recreational areas. These are all factors that drive health and wellness in a community. Yet, health care budgets are not designed to tackle these difficult social challenges.
Communities around the nation are thinking innovatively about how to bring together partners and align streams of resources to sustainably support initiatives of shared interest and importance. Local wellness funds are a promising approach.
GHPC, with support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), is working to advance the practice of establishing and using local wellness funds to improve community health and well-being. The two-year national effort will expand understanding and dissemination of tools to establish these funds and successfully grow and implement them.
“Communities often live grant to grant. Even large federal grants end. And at the end of that funding, the work often slows or ends,” says Pamela Russo, M.D., a senior program officer at RWJF. “The idea behind a local wellness fund is that communities can continue their work and they can evolve the areas of work that are priorities for them as times change and emerging issues arise.”
Interest in local wellness funds emerged, in part, from Bridging for Health: Improving Community Health Through Innovations in Financing (led by GHPC and supported by RWJF). After exploring potential financing innovation, all seven participating sites pursued a local community wellness fund to address primary prevention of chronic conditions or an upstream driver of health.
After collectively receiving $1 million in varied support for their local efforts, the Bridging for Health sites together amassed more than $5.2 million for the start of their local wellness funds.
“It is becoming clear that these funds have the potential to attract and deploy large amounts of resources to support population health,” said Chris Parker, director of population and global health at GHPC. “Over the past several years, we have learned a lot about what it takes to initiate a local wellness fund. Knowledge and mindset change are not enough to propel community collaboratives into effective fund development. Groups will benefit from new tools and blueprints that will support their innovation acceleration.”
In studying emerging local wellness funds nationally, GHPC found they are often established through blending and braiding of resources from a mix of philanthropic grants; revenue from a tax or other state-funded source; hospital community benefits dollars; and contributions from businesses, insurers, and community banks. The involvement of a broad group of stakeholders ensures potential benefits from the local wellness fund will be seen across sectors as the health and wellness goals of a community are met.
“We are trying get to a place where people are literally thinking about new and different ways of sustaining the financing for upstream health,” says Parker. “It could make a major difference to not just overall health care cost, but to making people be more well. If people are eating differently and having the spaces to play and exercise, I think the potential impact is real.” ●●
If you have experience developing a local wellness fund or are interested in other’s learnings, please take this brief survey (bit.ly/wellness_funds) or share your experience with us at