In the early 2000s, senior-care nonprofits in the Pittsburgh area faced one serious challenge: competing for shared resources. Recognizing this problem in 2004, the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh partnered with three other organizations to apply for Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC) funding. These organizations were the Jewish Association on Aging, the Jewish Community Center of Pittsburgh, and Jewish Family and Community Services in Pittsburgh. Together, their partnership formed AgeWell Pittsburgh, a collaborative project that aims to use overlapping nonprofit goals to reduce competition and improve senior-care quality in the Pittsburgh area. Initially, the program served local seniors by a social-care centered model. This model operated with referral lines to create connections between the elderly and community resources available to them. However, this model was costly and challenging to manage, so AgeWell Pittsburgh took a different approach, recognized with a Lodestar Collaboration Prize in 2017. Now, the program focuses on providing coordinated services and programs created by the three partners.
To make coordination work smoothly, AgeWell Pittsburgh focuses on each organization’s mission and how it overlaps with the others. Managers of all three service organizations claim that they can accomplish a lot more together without competing for resources since each respective nonprofit has its specialties. Of course, this has impacted AgeWell Pittsburgh’s organization. The program focuses on four primary levels of service. These include the direct service level, where coordinators provide discrete services on the ground. The next level is the service coordination level, which focuses on consistent shared outcomes. The managerial level is next, where managers of each organization continuously communicate with each other to talk short- and long-term strategies. Finally, the program focuses on overlap through the advisory level, which consists of stakeholders and community members who make sure AgeWell Pittsburgh is on track to making the best strategic decisions. AgeWell Pittsburgh says that what makes this coordination most successful is constant communication on each level.
AgeWell Pittsburgh tributes most of its success to team-building training. This training helped develop relationships between direct service workers in all three partner organizations. The program used these relationships to understand each partner’s discrete services better and decide how they could combine with other existing services. According to managers, maintaining a family atmosphere in the network helped create a culture of honesty, transparency, and compatibility. All in all, AgeWell Pittsburgh grew by checking first to see if each partner was compatible with one another. The program then decided to move forward with long-term goals.
Since collaboration focuses on the overlap, AgeWell Pittsburgh faces the challenge of partner independence from the network. Sometimes, network partners choose to merge to work toward a joint mission. AgeWell Pittsburgh aimed toward maintaining the expertise in each partner while creating a collaborative space to increase their capacities for senior-care. Moreover, the program uses a tool called Protective Factors for Maintaining Independence, which helps measure outcomes of services. These measurements are then compared to national data, which helps the network maintain high-level service quality. In fact, outcome data shows that AgeWell Pittsburgh seniors have better results than Medicare recipients across the country.
Finally, partner managers emphasize the importance of trust and adaptability in their work. AgeWell Pittsburgh is always working to keep up to date with other evidence-based programs so that the program can adapt these programs to their work. To do this work, each organization must trust each other to fulfill their roles in the network and be transparent about their goals and values. To reach such a level of trust, managers at AgeWell Pittsburgh claim that patience is critical. Relationships take time to build, and those relationships need time to build trust to build common goals.
AgeWell Pittsburgh continues to make progress today and is working on ways to make its methods adaptable to other collaborations. Their strategies have trailblazed the social impact world, and the program hopes to continue innovating in management, team-building, and senior-care overall.
Learn more about AgeWell Pittsburgh and other networks in:
Networks for Social Impact by Michelle Shumate and Katherine Cooper – expected publications July 2021 by Oxford University Press.