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Reflections from Vidant Health Foundation on post-disaster relief

    In early October 2016, Hurricane Matthew swept across the eastern portion of North Carolina, producing devastating floods that left many residents stranded and without power for days. The hurricane caused more than $4.8 billion in damage, with only $1.2 billion committed to recovery from the federal government to date.

    Following Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria in 2017, the Philanthropy Leadership Council reached out to Scott Senatore, Vice President of Vidant Health Foundation in Greenville, N.C., to get a first-hand perspective on the nuances of the foundation's role following a natural disaster. The foundation supports Vidant Health, whose eight hospitals serve 29 counties in eastern North Carolina.

    What we learned is that employee assistance should be a top priority.

    Focus on providing relief to health system employees

    Many hospitals and health systems, including Vidant, are among the largest employers in a given community. By focusing relief efforts on system employees, foundations and systems can have a far-reaching impact on recovery. Employees will be dealing with their own hardships at the same time that they're called to serve others in need across the area. By caring for employees, you will also sustain quality care for patients.

    When Hurricane Matthew struck, Vidant modeled a hurricane relief fund on their existing Employee Crisis Fund, which helps system employees through difficult times, like a house fire or other unforeseen event. The system chose to segregate hurricane relief funds to ensure that employees could receive hurricane relief without exhausting money available for other employee needs.

    Vidant's system and foundation partnered to provide financial assistance to employees most affected by the storm. The foundation served as the receiving and distribution entity for assistance to employees, and Vidant Health System provided funding. Overall, Vidant fielded 130 employee requests for assistance and provided $183,000 in aid.

    Senatore credits the health system for the tremendous help provided to employees following Matthew. However, all of the procedures and policies needed to establish the hurricane relief fund were developed immediately following the hurricane. Setting guidelines prior to the storm would have allowed the system to have a faster, more impactful response. Senatore encourages other development leaders faced with a high likelihood of disaster response to "be prepared, be proactive, and have funds and guidelines set up in advance."

    Maintain regular fundraising, but be flexible

    Even though foundations should focus their attention on employee assistance during disaster relief efforts, other strategies can continue. Vidant was in the middle of a $50 million cancer campaign when Matthew occurred, and those campaign priorities were no less important to the system's long-term plan despite the immediate impact of the hurricane.

    Senatore acknowledges that Vidant was fortunate: the main campus in Greenville, N.C., (also the headquarters of the foundation) wasn't as significantly impacted as other hospitals in their 29-county service area. This allowed operations for both the hospital and the foundation to continue mostly as normal.

    However, the storm affected many system employees across eastern North Carolina so the foundation extended their annual employee giving campaign two weeks. They felt that employees would want to participate eventually, but also knew that being flexible with campaign timelines would demonstrate an awareness of and sensitivity to immediate needs.

    Following a natural disaster, foundations in affected communities should be ready to delay or alter the messaging for upcoming donor communications and events, but local stakeholders—like the board—should be consulted on the right path forward.

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