Global Innovation Fellows is one way Medtronic volunteers are contributing to health systems around the world to address disparities.
For Anil Mankodi, who grew up in India and now lives in Santa Ana, California, the experience was an opportunity to put his skills to use and give back to his birth country after 30+ years. For Suzie Moskal, of Memphis, Tennessee, it was an opportunity to apply her skills in a new culture and new setting. Stephane Salerno, of Tolochenaz, Switzerland, wanted to step outside his comfort zone. These Medtronic employees each had a different reason they were drawn to participate in the Medtronic Foundation’s Global Innovation Fellows (GIF) program, but they all had a common mission: putting their philanthropic passions into practice by using their unique professional skills to volunteer with a non-profit.
The GIF program places select Medtronic employees from across different disciplines and functions of the company for a three-week, intensive volunteer project with a Medtronic Foundation funded non-profit partner. Its goal is to cultivate a transformation from the inside-out – for local partners, communities, and employees alike. The nonprofits draw on the skillsets of Medtronic employees to help solve challenges such as business model expansion, technology development and overall program sustainability that they often don’t have the capacity or resources to tackle on their own. Meanwhile, Medtronic employees gain the opportunity to put their skills to use giving back in a meaningful way that benefits underserved populations.
The program is one of two categories of volunteer projects the Medtronic Foundation coordinates for Medtronic employees. Employees can participate in hands-on projects such as packing meals for a food bank or building homes. These types of projects typically last a few hours or days. Or, they can select a skills-based program like GIF, which connects the right skills with the right organizations to drive lasting change.
On a typical day in a busy hospital in India, a man might arrive in an ambulance. He is having chest pain and the emergency medical technicians suspect a heart attack. But it took him too long to recognize his symptoms and it took the ambulance too long to arrive. Will he survive?
Nearby, in the waiting room, a young mother may be chatting with her nurse. Her newborn son was born weighing just four-and-a-half pounds. In India, more than a quarter of babies are born with low birthweight. She lives hours away and fears she may not know all she needs to know to care for her son and ensure he gains the weight he needs.
Scenes like these are too common today in India. That’s why the GIF program partnered with two local nonprofits – HeartRescue India and Noora Health – to help deliver innovative programs to improve care and save lives. The Medtronic Foundation had already invested strategic financing in each organization, but the skills Medtronic employees brought to both HeartRescue and Noora Health helped deepen the impact of both organizations’ work.
HeartRescue India has several goals: increase community awareness of heart attack signs and symptoms; enhance capacity of health systems and health workers to diagnose and treat heart attacks; and minimize critical time delays and care disparities for the most serious forms of heart attacks. To date, the program has integrated both public and private stakeholders to improve health outcomes for 569 patients and train more than 500 physicians and hospital staff.
Through the GIF program, seven Medtronic employees volunteered to help HeartRescue India develop a pathway to scale across other parts of the country.
Anil, a program director in the structural heart division of Medtronic, understands first hand that HeartRescue is critically needed to help reduce time to treatment and survival rates for underserved people in India.
“When we talk to stakeholders here, the first thing they say is ‘Money, we can get, but we cannot get the right people,’” he explained. “Skills-based programs are getting the right people to work on these programs.”
Medtronic employees also supported Medtronic Foundation partner Noora Health. Noora Health trains family members of patients with serious illnesses to provide home-based care and monitor for post-discharge complications. For example, family members of patients having heart surgery will learn warning signs of possible complications that may require additional treatment, like surgical-site infections. Those taking home a baby with low birth weight will be trained to recognize signs of hypothermia and mothers will be coached in breastfeeding.
So far, more than 350,000 family members have been trained at 119 hospitals across the country. The program has reduced patient and family anxiety while bringing down readmissions by 24% and post-surgical complications in cardiac patients by 71% at hospitals participating in the program. Now, with the help of skilled volunteers, Noora Health is trying to expand its impact and reach more families.
“While Noora is currently focused on working with families after a hospitalization, the organization came to us for help expanding their service model to the primary care setting,” said Jeffrey Potkul, a Global Innovations fellow who volunteered with Noora Health in October 2019.
Over the course of three weeks, the team was immersed with the organization and took a deep dive into the Indian health system and the local culture. Then their skills were used to develop an actionable plan for Noora. Each team member came from a different region of the globe, division of Medtronic and offered a specific skillset, and none had worked together in the past. But that is by design.
“When you bring together multiple parties that have variable outlooks on the way healthcare can be improved, that’s really where you see things move really fast,” Jeffrey said. “Not only do we have diversity overall, but we bring diversity of thought. We take our different perspectives, we meld them together, and we create solutions and models that are probably going to create a bigger impact than if we would have worked separately.”
Thousands of miles away in the small town of Faribault, Minnesota, a GIF team worked with Medtronic Foundation partner, HealthFinders, a community health and wellness center that serves those without access to other care options.
“There are many people in this community who probably do not have insurance or are not aware what kind of insurance benefits they can access to support their healthcare needs,” said Kannan Kase, a GIF participant who works as a research and development engineer at Medtronic. “This volunteer effort is helping us to come up with solutions that can enable HealthFinders to better underserved people who may have awareness, access, and affordable issues.”
Often, people living with chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease will wait too long for their care, or have trouble managing their medications and treatment recommendations. Some may not speak English, and some may not be accustomed to navigating the American health system or understand what benefits might be open to them. As a result, far too many fall through the cracks. That’s where HealthFinders comes in.
Together, with HealthFinders, the GIF team was tasked with helping the organization better understand the patient care pathway and address some of the data inoperability issues HealthFinders was encountering when working with underserved populations at the nexus of social and clinical services.
Specifically, the team learned how electronic health records and information systems are used by community health workers and care coordinators and what processes are used to serve patients. The GIF team proposed solutions for improved care coordination that the HealthFinders team continues to refine and implement.
“The GIF team took time to truly understand our context, who we were, and what we were trying to accomplish,” said Charlie Mandile, executive director, HealthFinders. “The project continues to impact our work. In addition to the lasting tools we created with GIF, the team taught us a process so we could continue iterating and cultivating these tools to meet our unique and evolving needs.”
In Ireland, the GIF program took on a different type of project. Here, the team was tasked with looking across the community and voluntary sector to try to establish a country-wide comprehensive approach of measuring and demonstrating elements of “societal value.”
They worked with three nonprofit partners to test and pulse check a framework and then their work was continued by another GIF team sent months later. The overall goal was to help strengthen public-private partnerships by identifying and measuring key societal value indicators. In theory, if this approach works, it will help the country figure out how to invest in organizations who are successfully contributing to society in ways meaningful to Irish community leaders.
The Global Innovation Fellows program is an important part of the Medtronic Foundation’s strategic approach to driving impact. The Medtronic Foundation had already invested strategic financing in each of the organizations where GIF teams volunteered, but the skills Medtronic employees brought to help address specific challenges each was facing helped deepen our overall investment.
“I think with the combination of skilled service and funding, you're going to be able to get something sustainable,” said Karen Mathre who volunteered with Noora Health in India. “You're going to be able to have something implemented in the local area once we leave and that, I think, is really important to have a lasting impact and not just a temporary one.”
No matter where the Medtronic employees give back, one thing is certain: when volunteering is transformational rather than transactional, when it’s about impact rather than charity, everyone reaps the benefits.