Community Catalyst Patricia Baker, President and CEO, Connecticut Health Foundation
“The imperative to get health care right is so strong...”
Patricia Baker’s life work and passion centers on making a healthier tomorrow for us all. That’s a challenge in a rapidly changing health care environment.
“What we know today is that we won’t know what the world will be like four years from now.” But one thing is certain; those who want to maintain the status quo will be unable to do so,” she says. “On a national and state level, the dollars allocated for health care are adding up and crowding out everything else. We spend more, have more unnecessary costs, and we have often have poorer outcomes compared to the rest of the industrial world.”
Baker is the founding leader of the Connecticut Health Foundation, having guided the organization since its creation in 1999. Under her leadership, the foundation has become the state’s largest independent health philanthropy and uses a combination of grantmaking, policy work, and research to improve the health status of Connecticut residents. Patricia came to the foundation with two decades of experience as a visionary, pragmatic leader in health care policymaking, service provision, advocacy, and community engagement.
Baker’s relationship with Wheeler predates her work at CHF, when she served as vice chair of the Governor’s Cabinet on Nonprofit Health and Human Services.
“Wheeler has always demonstrated tremendous vison, coupled with strong, adaptive leadership. It shows a consistent willingness to embrace accountability that has been demonstrated over decades,” she says.
Baker’s focus at CHF is on advancing health equity, and a key strategy for the foundation has been the integration of oral health, primary care, and behavioral health to improve health outcomes through a whole-person and systems approach to care.
“My first conversation with Wheeler was about integrated care, back in 2001, and how we can get behavioral health and primary care talking to each other. It was an early grant to support a local system of health care coordination and care development. So, what is now considered imperative for the entire health care system is something Wheeler was experimenting with more than 15 years ago.”
More recently, the Foundation has supported Wheeler with a grant to analyze disparities in access to care, patient engagement, preventative screening and public health indicator data at Wheeler's Family Health & Wellness Centers in Bristol and Hartford.
Baker has worked closely with Wheeler at each step.
“Just like Susan Walkama, Dennis Keenan and David Berkowitz [past presidents of Wheeler] had, I think, a vision and commitment and a passion for serving all of the health needs of Wheeler’s clientele. Whether we could always name it as ‘integrated care,’ I’m not sure for each point in time. But all of your leaders have had the design and passion in mind to get Wheeler where it is today. Wheeler is the epitome of embracing the concept and being willing to do the hard work.”
Baker and her team of staff and volunteers have their own hard work ahead. The Foundation’s 2018-2022 strategic plan centers on advancing health equity by ensuring access to coverage, increasing connections to care, improving care delivery, linking clinical care with communities, and strengthening advocacy and leadership.
“We have a commitment and vision that the next generation will not face the same racial and ethnic health disparities their parents and grandparents faced. We’re going to continue the most effective use of investing in systems of change, focusing on access, connections to care and care that’s comprehensive, meaning oral, physical and mental health. Care that is affordable and accountable,” she says. “That makes delivery system reform critical, particularly in Connecticut, where race, ethnicity, and language play huge roles in getting services that are meaningful to the patient. Wheeler has certainly demonstrated a commitment and dedication to that.”
Like many of the individuals who have been nominated as a Community Catalyst for Wheeler’s 50th anniversary, Baker remains optimistic in the future of health care, despite—or, perhaps, because of—the hard work ahead.
“These are challenging times, and sometimes this will slow us down. There will be hurdles and challenges. The imperative to get health care right is so strong that we have to move forward. I am optimistic, but it’s probably more of a cautious optimism coupled with a sense of perseverance. We have to be steadfast, we can’t be deterred, and we have to try things that move us forward. What Wheeler has done for decades is set a standard of excellence through a commitment to evidence-based care. They are willing to take chances and experiment.”
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