Role of Philanthropy

Millions of people across Northern California benefit when philanthropic organizations, corporations and individuals donate time, talents, resources and money to improve health in our communities. In 2014, our not-for-profit network received more than $83 million from these generous givers, whose caring allowed us to buy equipment, invest in new technologies, develop preventive care programs, build facilities, support clinical research, address emerging community needs and serve people with little or no access to medical services or the means to pay.

Innovative tool helps customize care

In 2014, Sutter Health employed an innovative analytics tool in an effort to better serve Bay Area patients who frequently use hospital emergency departments for nonurgent care. With $500,000 from Sutter Health philanthropic foundation Better Health East Bay, our Alta Bates Summit Medical Center in Oakland and Sutter Health researchers implemented the tool—a mapping software called Hotspotting—that uses claims records and billing data to find geographic “hot spots” of patients who use emergency departments disproportionately. The tool will help us connect these patients—many of whom have chronic illnesses or face challenges such as homelessness—with community partners that can provide them with the primary health care and social services they need to stay well and out of the hospital. It also will help us reduce our overall costs of care.

Philanthropy aids detection of breast cancers

Donors in San Mateo County concerned about their community’s high rates of invasive breast cancer gave more than $2.1 million in 2014 to help Sutter Health purchase five digital breast tomosynthesis scanners at our Mills-Peninsula Women’s Center. The advanced scanners provide 3-D mammography, allowing our radiologists to look through breast tissue in thinner layers, which enables earlier detection of small, localized tumors and reduces the number of false-positive readings. In the first few months of use, the scanners detected six new cancer cases that would not have been found with older technology. Also, with false-positive readings reduced, fewer patients faced the anxiety of additional testing.

Harriet B. Borofsky, M.D., medical director of Sutter Health’s Mills-Peninsula Women’s Center, views a patient’s 3-D mammography scans.
Harriet B. Borofsky, M.D., medical director of Sutter Health’s Mills-Peninsula Women’s Center, views a patient’s 3-D mammography scans.

Gifts further development of biobank

Philanthropists donated $1.3 million in 2014 toward the continuing development of our Sutter Health Biobank, designed to help us better understand why certain diseases occur and who stands most at risk. Launched by our Palo Alto Medical Foundation researchers, the biobank will gather and pair human biological material, such as blood samples, with electronic health record information, such as blood pressure and lifestyle data, from consenting patients across our network of more than 3 million ethnically and racially diverse people. Findings will help us make earlier, more accurate diagnoses of cancer, diabetes and other diseases and provide our patients with more personalized treatment options at lower overall cost.

Volunteers offer time, talent and TLC

Every day in hospitals, home health programs and care centers across our network, volunteers add a personal touch to our services by helping patients and families feel more comfortable and at home. In 2014, more than 5,000 volunteers donated thousands of hours to assist patients and families in countless compassionate ways—greeting visitors, giving directions, providing transportation, rocking babies, feeding patients and comforting those in hospice care. At some of our hospitals, trained volunteer therapy animals—dogs, cats and even a couple of miniature horses—provide patients and families with their own special brand of tender loving care.

two dogs touching noses while laying on hospital patient's lap
volunteer driving golf cart at Sutter facility

Human volunteers, such as Meagan Soraoka, above, at Sutter Delta Medical Center, help our patients in many practical and personal ways. Animal volunteers, such as Murphy, left, and Gracie, play their part, too.

Donors fund palliative care education

The generosity of an internist who trained at Sutter Health’s California Pacific Medical Center and her father spurred the 2014 creation of an innovative Bay Area-based training program for physicians. Working with doctors in our Sutter Pacific Medical Foundation, Shoshana Ungerleider, M.D., created a curriculum to educate residents and interns on palliative care, a multidisciplinary approach to caring for seriously ill people that emphasizes relief of pain, symptoms and stress to improve patients’ quality of life. Dr. Ungerleider and her father, clinical psychologist and author Steven Ungerleider, underwrote the initial training costs. The program teaches doctors advanced communication skills that can help them respond effectively and compassionately to the unique needs of seriously ill patients and their families. It also helps doctors focus on their own wellness needs.