Passion to change health care

Categories: Donor Stories

Personal challenges, life-changing opportunities spark passion to change health care

During her decade at Bridgeport Hospital, Gina Calder has met many patients, and heard stories both heartbreaking and inspiring.

She remembers one young woman in particular: a patient at Bridgeport Hospital’s Primary Care Center who wanted to attend Yale University.

“Academically, she could have done it, but her health condition – along with economic barriers – forced her to defer that dream,” said Calder, Bridgeport Hospital’s Vice President of Ambulatory Services. “I’ve been fortunate not to have health issues, but my family faced the same kinds of economic struggles this young woman and so many of our patients have.”

Despite those struggles, Calder was able to attend Yale University, which “completely changed my life,” she said. She earned a BA in psychology in 2003 and a Master’s of Public Health in health policy and administration in 2008. She joined Bridgeport Hospital as a Yale New Haven Health System administrative fellow that year.

Calder has since worked her way up from manager to director, to executive director and, in 2016, to vice president. She is deeply committed to all the departments and services she oversees, but it was her personal experiences and work with the Primary Care Center that sparked an idea to change Yale New Haven Health’s approach to care.

“We have a wonderful, dedicated team of skilled clinicians who provide exceptional care,” Calder said. “But there are other factors that can significantly affect our patients’ health, and we don’t have the resources to meet all their needs.”

These factors – called “social determinants” – can define a person’s health and are often tied to income and include limited access to transportation, stable, safe housing and affordable, healthy food.

In 2015, Calder had an opportunity to address these and other issues when she joined the first class of the national Carol Emmott Fellowship for Women Healthcare Leaders. For her fellowship project, Calder researched health organizations worldwide that have engaged community workers to address social determinants. Calder developed a plan for a similar model at Yale New Haven Health System, starting with Bridgeport Hospital.

Under the model, Bridgeport Hospital would recruit and build a care coordination and navigation team. The team will help patients navigate through the healthcare system and address their non-medical needs.

After lots of discussion and planning, and fundraising that to date has yielded $243,000, the project launched last October, with enthusiastic support from Bridgeport Hospital leaders, the Board of Directors and the Bridgeport Hospital Foundation. Major donors included board members who also serve as project champions. These board champions worked with Calder and her team to develop measures to evaluate the project’s success. The Foundation embraced the project, which appeals to donors and potential donors who want to support programs, rather than brick-and-mortar projects.

The next steps are to continue to build philanthropic support and hire the full team. Future plans include launching additional pilot projects and expanding the project across Yale New Haven Health. It’s hard work, and there’s no financial reimbursement for this model of care, but “this is absolutely the right thing to do for our patients,” Calder said. “Donor support is critical to our ability to do this important work, which will be self-sustaining after three years.”

“I see myself in many of the patients and families we serve,” she said. “It’s so rewarding to be part of a project that supports and empowers our patients, so they can stay healthier and have a better shot at success in their lives.”