Verdant Health Commission unveils 2023-24 strategic plan, new grantmaking standards

With a focus on mental health, health care access and food security, the Verdant Health Commission Friday morning rolled out its two-year strategic plan during a community forum in Lynnwood.

The Verdant Health Commission Board recently completed a Community Health Needs Assessment – with more than 500 residents participating – and the results helped commissioners develop its three priorities. The commission also acknowledged the importance of maintaining its fiduciary responsibilities, which include serving as the landlord for Swedish Edmonds Hospital.

To help the community learn more about Verdant’s priorities, the commission is hosting three community forums to share the Community Health Needs Assessment results, the 2023-24 strategic plan, outline the new funding cycles and application procedures for 2023-24 and answer questions.

During Friday’s forum, employees laid out the basics of the strategic plan and how grantmaking will change in the upcoming year.

A communitywide survey helped commissioners decide what the top priorities would be in the 2023-24 strategic plan.

Verdant plans to continue supporting mental health services, primarily ones that focus on suicide prevention and offer support to domestic violence victims. The commission also plans to offer positive coping and overall mental well-being classes for people of all ages.

In addition, the commission wants to prioritize helping local food banks and pantries, ensuring they are stocked with food for various cultures and dietary preferences. Dietary and nutritional classes will also be offered in the coming years for the community to learn how to use new ingredients, cook unique recipes and make connections with others.

Finally, Verdant said it is dedicated to providing affordable and trustworthy health care access to the entire community.

“We want to know how we can always offer support with these resources at all times,” Verdant Superintendent Lisa Edwards said. “Our mission is to improve the well-being of our whole community.”

In addition, Verdant will be returning to pre-pandemic funding levels at the beginning of 2023 and will annually fund $8.2 million in grants to organizations supporting the community. With this development, commissioners considered a different approach to grantmaking than what Verdant had previously done.

Interim Director of Community Impact and Grantmaking Leslie Silverman said Verdant will no longer be providing multi-year contracts. Each grant will be one year long, and organizations will need to reapply for funding on a yearly basis.

This news received backlash from some attendees, who were concerned about the lack of guarantee for continual funding.

Dr. Sally Guzman, who works for the Edmonds School District, said having annual grants could impact many organizations’ employee retention. With no guarantee that funds will be available to pay for certain positions, she fears many employees will seek more secure positions elsewhere.

Guzman also said the grant-requesting process is arduous and many organizations won’t have the manpower to reapply every year, especially if they are pursuing multiple grants at once.

 However, Silverman said this approach will help Verdant keep more funds on hand for new investment opportunities. Verdant staff hopes the funding flexibility will allow the commission to provide more equitable service to multiple organizations and causes communitywide.

“Annual grants will help give us greater flexibility to respond to various needs,” she said.

There will be two grant applications per year: One on Nov. 1 for contracts beginning April 1 and one May 1 for contacts starting Oct. 1.

Despite these changes, Silverman said the online application process will not look much different than before. Applicants will be asked to select a primary and secondary area of funding, state their financial need, provide a list of co-funders, if any, and confirm that they agree to the terms and conditions of the provided grant dollars.

A few commenters asked why the Strategic Plan did not list housing options for the homeless, as it seems to be a rapidly growing issue in South Snohomish County. Edwards said the commission has previously looked into this but providing housing does not fall under the most basic scope of health and wellness that Verdant seeks to focus on.

“We’re not capable of funding every service that needs to happen in this community,” Edwards said. “But we are really trying to do the most good and fill in the pieces where it will be the most beneficial.”

Verdant Health Commission will be hosting two additional forums for the community to learn more about the Strategic Plan and ask any questions regarding the commission or the new grant process. The next forums will be Nov. 15 at 4 p.m. and Dec. 6 at 12 p.m.

The forums can be attended in person or via Zoom. Verdant requests that interested individuals register here in advance.

Verdant Health Commission is located at 4710 196th St. S.W. in Lynnwood.

–By Lauren Reichenbach

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