Innovation Destination Hartford spoke with R. Scott Orsey, Director of Operations and Strategy at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center (Connecticut Children’s) Office for Community Child Health to discuss how Connecticut Children’s is working to enhance innovation throughout Connecticut.
IDH: How does Tell us about the Office for Community Child Health fit into Connecticut Children’s overall strategy?
ORSEY: The Office for Community Child Health was formed in 2012 in response to our strategic vision for the hospital, which is “making the children of Connecticut the healthiest in the country.”
The idea is to promote health outside of the walls of the hospital. How do you nurture efforts to help children grow up to be healthy?
At the time we had 13 programs dispersed across the institution that were dealing with critical issues and connecting children to resources within the community, so we brought them all into the Office with three goals: strengthening the programs, building synergies across the programs and their community-based partners, and incubating new, innovative ideas.
IDH: You’ve been working on a new program, the Advancing Kids Innovation Program.
ORSEY: The Advancing Kids Innovation Program has an interesting backstory. We’ve been working on it since the very beginning of the Office. We’ve been talking about innovation all the time, externally and internally, but we weren’t really finding a lot of people coming to us with innovative ideas, even though our door was wide open.
About two years ago, we decided we needed to have more than just an open-door policy—we needed to figure out how to encourage innovators to come forward. We started by doing an environmental scan here in Connecticut where we looked at some other organizations that help innovators and entrepreneurs and how they encourage innovation. We also reviewed efforts at other children’s hospitals around the country. Then we interviewed folks, found a number of strategies they used, and collected those to form our own strategy.
This innovation program we’re creating is a key component to that strategy as well. We hope to build linkages to innovators across different sectors within Hartford. We’re looking beyond Hartford too, but we do recognize the value in starting local. Everything we do we pilot locally before we move to broader audiences.
IDH: What other efforts is Connecticut Children’s making to enhance innovation in Connecticut?
ORSEY: Last June we started something we call a “community health innovation check-up” (CH-ICU) that invites innovators to share their work with a small group of people who understand program development—including experts in child health, evaluation, program design and innovation diffusion. The innovator discusses the different components of their program, we have a dialogue, and then we provide written feedback and recommendations.
So far we’ve done about a dozen of these innovation checkups. Now we’re looking to build the number, because we know there are more innovators out there.
We are particularly excited these days because we have identified a program leader to run the innovation program. She’ll be joining us in September. Under her leadership, we’ll be executing a number of strategies that start at a very broad level of outreach to innovators. The program will also provide escalating support to innovators as they advance their efforts, increase their impact on children and families, and further align with our efforts to promote children’s optimal healthy development.
Connecticut Children’s is prepared to provide technical assistance to innovators, including connecting them to our network—physicians, providers, patients, other innovators, and even funders from whom innovators can gain value. We have a lot of expertise here in child development, program design and evaluation, and diffusion of innovation. For those innovations that align particularly well with our work, we also have resources to help people seek funding opportunities.
We’d like to eventually find some innovations we can diffuse across our network including our Help Me Grow national network.
IDH: Tell us about Help Me Grow.
ORSEY: Help Me Grow was started in 1997. The program helps identify children who are at risk for developmental or behavioral problems and links them to existing community-based programs and services. It was piloted here in Hartford with a grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving.
Help Me Grow was successful here in Connecticut and became recognized as a model that could be helpful in other places. So we received some external dollars to diffuse the program across a few states. Now, Help Me Grow systems are being run or built in 25 states and we expect to see further growth in the future.
Connecticut Children’s doesn’t actually operate the Help Me Grow system of Connecticut; it is a state program. We run the Help Me Grow National Center, which coordinates all of these systems across the different states. We consult to the states to help them get the coalition necessary to build a critical mass to start, build, and maintain these systems. It’s tricky because each of these areas has its own set of unique, local circumstances that leaders need to navigate. We know how to help them do that.
IDH: Let’s talk about some of the newer innovation programs that stemmed from Help Me Grow.
ORSEY: Help Me Grow itself was an innovation program at one point. Now that we’ve built that network we are leveraging it to diffuse two more innovations. Both were piloted right here in Hartford.
One is the Care Coordination Collaborative Model, which was borne out of a recognition that a lot of social services agencies have care coordinators who work with families, link them to services, and make sure things are moving forward. However, they don’t tend to communicate very much with each other. So the idea is to coordinate the coordinators. Care coordinators meet on a regular basis to talk about case studies and other critical issues they’re facing so they can better provide integrated services across the different sectors they’re all representing.
And again, it was all started here in Hartford. We have a grant to diffuse the Care Coordination Collaborative Model across the state of Connecticut. We’ve also received some funding so we can diffuse the model across the Help Me Grow national network. The goal is to get between five and 10 affiliate states to adopt the model.
Similarly, we have a Mid-Level Developmental Assessment program, which helps assess children who are at risk for adverse developmental and behavioral outcomes and would likely not be eligible for publicly funded early intervention or pre-school special education services. We developed the program in collaboration with The Village For Families & Children, which is here in Hartford.
The program seeks to identify developmental or behavioral concerns early and get children help before their problems escalate and create additional issues or added costs. It targets a population that was not getting served prior.
There’s a huge return on investment in this work. The challenges are that the return is over 15 to 20 years later and the payoffs typically happen in sectors that are different than where the investment was made. For example, you make an investment in early care and education, which is going to have a positive impact on the child, but where’s the payoff? It could come in education through decreased special education costs, workforce development through increased employability, or the criminal justice system through decreased crime. That’s why we need an innovation program and we need folks to innovate in this space—because we know that the return is really big.
IDH: In what ways does Connecticut Children’s act as a critical community resource?
ORSEY: Connecticut Children’s is a critical resource to our community. We serve every child that comes through our doors who needs our services. We also participate in a number of efforts that improve Hartford and the state. This work is exploring how we can increase our value as a resource within the community.
Recently, the Children’s Hospital Association published a report showing that quality healthcare only contributes to about 10% of a child’s ultimate health and development. Other factors, such as social circumstances and behavior, have a far greater impact. The family is a huge factor. We embrace an approach that addresses all of these factors, including access to healthy housing, the safety of neighborhoods, and whether families have enough nutritious food to eat, to name just a few.
The ultimate goal is: How do you improve health and reduce costs by promoting health? That’s a bigger, much longer-term question than we’re going to solve overnight.
IDH: How else are you involved with the entrepreneurial community in the Hartford area?
ORSEY: I have a personal background and interest in the entrepreneurial space in Greater Hartford. I spend a lot of time talking with entrepreneurs and change makers of all sorts to help them move their ideas forward. Most entrepreneurs know what they need, but many times they have trouble finding appropriate resources. I’m passionate about helping them make the connections that accelerate their work.
I see the importance of Connecticut Children’s linkage to local incubators and educational institutions—anything that is trying to fit within that innovation ecosystem. We need to figure out how we can help support the growth of that network with the idea that if innovation throughout Connecticut is successful then we’ll be successful.
Places like Axis901, The Grove, Connecticut Innovations, and reSET work with seed-in-the-ground innovators. If you look at the reSET Impact Award winners from the last several years, there are definitely health-related innovations. But we don’t necessarily know how to engage with those innovators.
Connecticut Children’s can serve as a bridge to the expertise needed to improve health-related outcomes. We have a lot of value to offer and we are excited to help do that to the extent that it aligns with our vision of making the children of Connecticut the healthiest in the nation.
IDH: It sounds like the innovation program will play a significant role in this mission. Do you plan to target a specific number of new innovation programs that will stem from the program?
ORSEY: I see us helping launch four to five innovations per year. I feel like we have capacity to assist at that level. But to reach that number of innovations, we know we must reach hundreds of innovators and offer some support, guidance, and access to expertize. We’re still working to define these goals.
So we’d like to help these innovators, but we also realize that in order for that to happen we need to strengthen other people’s connections to each other and not necessarily only to us. And also strengthen the individual nodes within that network. It’s a question of: How do we strengthen this whole system? We need the network to be elevated.
IDH: So how do you strengthen those connections?
ORSEY: Our work is aligned with the broader goals of Connecticut’s innovation ecosystem. I think what sometimes gets lost in that discussion is the relevancy of the kinds of innovations we hear about and we work on here. We are a non-profit business model however we do a lot of broader work. We strengthen connections by being open and helpful to people regardless of the lens that they or their organization looks through. Ours happens to be around children’s optimal healthy development, but there are a lot of other lenses out there too.