For the cause of healthy Bajan hearts

At a time when chronic non-communicable diseases are on the rise in Barbados and putting great strain on an already stretched public health care budget, non-governmental organizations such as the Heart and Stroke Foundation of Barbados (HSFB) play a crucial role in helping to combat the spread of these lifestyle-related illnesses through various interventions.

Against this backdrop, it was heartening to learn at the HSFB’s annual general meeting (AGM) earlier this month that this 32-year-old charity, which a few years ago was facing an uncertain future because of serious financial challenges, had made a turnaround following the adoption of a more sustainable business model which has contributed considerably to a major improvement in its cash flow.

Delivering his final report to the AGM before stepping down after serving two terms, immediate past president Humphrey Metzgen said the turnaround was made possible through the cooperation and understanding of its bankers, the “great personal and financial sacrifices” of staff, interns and volunteers who, in various ways, had “so generously contributed to the well-being of the Foundation”, as well as the generous support of corporate and other donors.

Metzgen singled out for special praise former CEO Gina Pitts, who resigned last year to rejoin her family in Britain, for ably driving the Foundation’s new “corporate vehicle” during the reorganization phase over the last five years and delivering on the promise of its “new vision”.

“Today . . . the Foundation is in good shape and our outlook for the future looks encouraging,” Metzgen told the AGM. “Furthermore,” he added, “the Foundation has a positive cash flow and a strong income stream from increased sales.”

When one considers that heart-related disease has emerged within the last ten years as the leading cause of illness and death in Barbados, accounting for 30 to 40 per cent of all deaths, according to the Ministry of Health, the value of ensuring the survival and sustainability of an organization such as the HSFB to ease the pressure off the public health system becomes quite apparent. Indeed, given Government’s tight finances, health-related NGOs are likely to be looked to increasingly to take on an even bigger role over the coming years.

The HSFB, which was originally known as the Heart Foundation, was established back in 1985 through to the shared initiatives of The Lions Club of Barbados South, through its Health and Social Services Committee, then under the chairmanship of Mr. H. (Dru) Symmonds, and Cardiologist Professor Trevor Hassell, who was that time Head of the Department of Medicine and of the Cardiac Unit at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Barbados. It subsequently made combatting strokes part of its focus and underwent a name change.

With a mission “to keep people heart healthy and reduce suffering and death from heart disease and stroke”, the HFSB’s interventions focus on the prevention of cardiac events within the population and rehabilitation for patients who suffered the misfortune of experiencing such an event. The latter is done as a service underwritten by the Ministry of Health.

The new business model places emphasis on the development of revenue-earning services with a focus on prevention. These services are then marketed and delivered to companies and institutions to promote the good health of their employees and families. One example is a screening service which the Foundation is discussing with the Barbados Public Workers Cooperative Credit Union to benefit some 8,000 persons.

This way, the HSFB is able to sustain its operations which cost over $1 million annually, instead of having to rely almost entirely on corporate and other donations which play an important role. The Foundation receives no funding in the form of a subvention from Government. As companies are beginning to recognize the value of health programmes for employees and their families, Metzgen pointed to the opportunity for the development of additional partnerships.

Non-profit organizations which provide services to the Barbadian public have traditionally funded their operations primarily through what can be described as the “begging bowl approach”. However, given the tight financial situation many companies and individuals currently find themselves in as a result of the state of the economy, they most likely are not in a position to give as generously as they did before.

To ensure their sustainability in the present environment, other non-profit non-governmental organizations may have to be as innovative as the HSFB, in developing programmes which offer value and can be revenue-generating to complement their traditional source of financing through donations. In this regard, we think they can learn a lesson or two from studying the HSFB’s new business model. For their success in turning around the fortunes of the HSFB and placing it on a sustainable path, Mr Metzgen and other members of the former Board deserve to be complimented.

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