The Healthy Aging Initiative

John Muir/Mt. Diablo Community Health Fund

Building Bridges to Better Health  

Healthy Aging Initiative (2001-2006)

In Brief

The six-year John Muir/Mt. Diablo Community Health Fund and Y & H Soda Foundation Healthy Aging Initiative invested over $6 million in an effort to broadly and sustainably address one of the most significant health challenges facing Contra Costa County: how to serve its rapidly aging population. The initiative tapped deep community relationships, convened collaborations, created an innovative funding partnership, called on the funders to play an active role, and reached out to the underserved.

Four elderly people

According to an outside evaluator, during the six years of the initiative over 5,000 seniors received help that they would not have received before - and many of those programs continue to serve the area's seniors. Services created or expanded include: transportation to medical appointments, friends for home-bound seniors, health navigators, access to health screening, respite programs, social adult day care centers, bill payment assistance, and case management. In response to gaps in services for limited-English-speaking seniors and/or aging refugees or immigrants, the participating organizations created or expanded services that include: Vietnamese peer companions and promotoras in the Latino community. In addition, new programs created hundreds of new volunteer opportunities for seniors.

Finally, the initiative fostered new levels of collaboration and awareness that continue to pay dividends for the county's seniors. The Partnership for Healthy Aging, which emerged from an original advisory group of nonprofits, fostered a newly collaborative approach that ensures greater community awareness of and a more efficient system of services.

The Health Issue

Between 2005 and 2040, projections indicate that Contra Costa County's population of older adults (age 65 and older) will double. Various reports have found that gaps in services exist in everything from connecting seniors with primary health services to providing the housing, transportation, volunteer, and employment opportunities necessary to maintaining health and quality of life as people age. Filling existing and future service gaps demands collaboration and the committed and continuous involvement of all stakeholders.

The Health Improvement Strategy

From its outset, the stakeholders in the Healthy Aging Initiative understood that the sheer numbers and the many different aspects of aging would demand a comprehensive, multi-faceted approach.

The initiative, therefore, began with a funding partnership that would launch and sustain the Healthy Aging Initiative for six years. By combining resources, the Community Health Fund and the Y & H Soda Foundation supplied $5.5 million for new programs, nonprofit capacity building and, an award-winning civic engagement movement. They also successfully pursued additional funding from The California Endowment ($175,000), the California Wellness Foundation ($175,000) and Contra Costa County Employment and Human Services ($150,000). By actively involving their own boards and pressing for substantial involvement from the grantee's boards, they garnered buy-in for a tailored set of funding guidelines that would sustain programs beyond the life of the initiative. They also carved out an unusually active, hands-on role for themselves as funders: they convened groups, made site visits, demanded ongoing and detailed accountability, and supported the writing of a whitepaper on osteoporosis prevention.

An evaluation commissioned at the end of the initiative found that the Healthy Aging Initiative substantially met all of its initial goals.

  • Participating agencies created sustainable new services for thousands of seniors who were not receiving services before.
  • The agencies raised awareness of existing resources.
  • Seniors discovered improved transportation options and more opportunities for socialization and service.
  • Many of the new services were multi-lingual and culturally sensitive, from Vietnamese peer companions to promotores (Spanish-speaking health educators and liaisons) in the Latino community.

In addition, the Initiative's support for capacity building provided agencies with training in strategic planning, fundraising, accounting systems, and cultural competence so they could grow appropriately to meet changing needs.

In fact, the bringing together of so many different community nonprofits fostered unprecedented levels of sustainable collaboration. For example, even as its members continue to develop and deliver new services, the Partnership for Healthy Aging - which emerged from an original advisory group of nonprofits - continues its collaborative work. Similarly, Contra Costa for Every Generation, a civic engagement movement the Healthy Aging Initiative spawned, lives beyond the life of the initiative.