Episode 29 of the More than Health Care: A Community Health Conversation podcast is now available on the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities’ website and on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, and Spotify. Every other week, a new episode uncovers keys to collaboration and holistic health in pursuit of improved health outcomes and lower costs for all.

In 2017, Héctor Colón became president and CEO of Lutheran Social Services of Wisconsin and Upper Michigan (LSS) in Milwaukee, an organization that had lost $10 million in 10 years—$2 million of that in the year before his arrival. It was now Colón’s job to first financially stabilize LSS and then set a course for viable growth. This daunting challenge required skillful leadership, the cooperation and skills of staff, and a resolve to make hard decisions. In his first five months at LSS, he put together his team and asked them five pertinent questions that would help set a new direction—it succeeded. “My first budget, we budgeted at a $500,000 loss … we ended up coming $67,000 positive. And then the second-year budget we budgeted at a break-even, and we came in $2.4 million positive,” Colón explains. So, in this extraordinary turnaround, LSS went from deep debt to an operating surplus that would ensure its existence and allow for new and sustainable growth. 

One of the areas in which LSS has focused upon is applying a social determinants of health approach, in partnership with schools and parents, to bolster school-based mental health services. This broader and more inclusive method addresses the health and well-being of the entire student’s household, with the understanding that the better the child’s home environment is, the better they will be at school. Colón also points out that keeping the teacher’s needs in mind is also very important to overall better mental health at schools, “Teacher is teacher, crisis worker, counselor, parent, and sometimes teacher is overwhelmed. And so, they need a little support.” And Colón feels the results show this effort is succeeding. Students are experiencing fewer behavioral health symptoms, and attendance is better. Also, the parents, who are now aware of the behavioral health services available to them, are realizing improved health and well-being, achieving the overall goals of a holistic approach to improved health.

Learn more about how to reframe your organization around the social determinants of health in this upcoming Alliance health equity webinar Sept. 16 from 2-3 p.m. with Mary E. Garr, president of Alliance member Family Service in San Antonio.

Another area in which LSS has made gains is in piloting efforts with health care and payers to have them directly compensate LSS for services. One program, based on the social determinant of health, is designed to help individuals who are heavy users of costly emergency health services avoid this practice by preventing the need through improved health and well-being or by addressing the crisis in a manner that doesn’t require an emergency room visit. For LSS, these types of partnerships will not only allow the organization to better help the individuals they serve, but they will also be able to tap into revenue streams outside of government funding. “We're too heavily reliant on government funding, over 90 percent,” says Colón.

From an initial financial crisis to an organization leading through innovation on both the program and funding levels, LSS has significantly benefited from Colón’s determination, insight, and ability to co-create with staff to establish a clear and stable direction and new cross-sector partnerships.

Listen to Héctor Colón as he describes his organization's efforts to ensure financial stability while plotting a course for new and innovative growth in Episode 29 of the  More than Health Care Podcast  available through the Alliance website or subscribe on the Apple Podcast, Google Play, or Spotify apps

About the Podcast

While many are realizing that collaboration and holistic approaches are the solution, the health care and human services sectors are struggling to find the right formula to realize the full potential. The More than Health Care podcast is designed to help organizations overcome barriers to partnerships resulting from cultural differences, financial pressures, and rules and regulations. 

In addition to showcasing inspiring examples of integration from across the country, featured experts will expose the myths, misconceptions, and shortcomings of efforts to address the social determinants of health through collaboration across sectors. 

This podcast is presented by the Alliance for Strong Families and Communities, Ascentria Care Alliance, and Beech Acres Parenting Center. Cohosts Jill Huynh, vice president of new business development at Beech Acres, and Tim Johnstone, executive vice president of community services at Ascentria, work at the intersection of health and human services, bringing the expertise and practical experience to uncover key takeaways for improving health care and human services integration. 

Subscribe on  Apple Podcasts, Google Play, or Spotify

Learn more about the Alliance's efforts to improve population health and well-being.