Emma was a natural born fighter. She was born three months early and weighed less than two pounds. She spent the first six months of her life fighting to stay alive. When she was strong enough, she was rushed to Children’s Hospital in Boston to have her heart repaired.

This was the first in a series of surgeries that her father, Chris, an employee at Genesis HealthCare in New Hampshire, needed to pay for.

When Emma eventually had a brain aneurysm, Chris found support in his employer. The Genesis Employee Foundation, a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, helped Chris pay for Emma’s medical expenses and obtain counseling. Emma loves the life she fought so hard for; she is now a healthy five-year-old.

Giving, Helping, Caring

Emma’s success story is one of many that come from the Genesis Employee Foundation. Created in 2005, the foundation exists to help employees of Kennett Square, Pa.-based Genesis HealthCare with the unimaginable—severe financial hardships.

Through its motto of Giving, Helping, Caring, the foundation aims to help fellow Genesis employees get back on their feet, put their lives back together, and try to move forward again.

The foundation provides assistance in four crisis areas: natural disaster, domestic violence, medical bills, and emergency funeral costs for an immediate family member.

In many cases the foundation also works to connect employees to other existing programs and resources that can help. In the case of domestic violence, for example, the focus is on safety and getting the employee who is the victim to move to safe, affordable housing.

“Connecting our employees with local resources and support is also a big part of what we do,” says Joanne Lippert, executive director of the Genesis Employee Foundation. “We hope the impact of the grant is significant, but we also connect them with existing resources and benefits.”

How It Works

The foundation is for employees, made possible by employees. Funding predominantly comes from fellow employee contributions, which could be made from a continuous payroll deduction or one-time contribution. The foundation also receives funding via Genesis HealthCare and other sources.

After experiencing an unforeseen financial hardship, any employee of Genesis can apply for a grant confidentially via an application on the company’s intranet. All requests come through the foundation office staff, who determine if the grant request fits the foundation’s guidelines, and if so, gather supporting documentation, provide an anonymous snapshot of the person’s situation, and present it to a voting committee, made up of fellow employees from all geographical areas of Genesis HealthCare. The voting committee meets weekly to review cases and make grant determinations.

“The voting committee has final say,” says Lippert. “The answer could be yes, no, or let’s get more information about this request.”

After a grant is decided on by the committee, the help doesn’t stop there, says Lippert. “We help them work out payment plans with their providers, and if needed we also work to identify other sources of support.”

The foundation grant pays the vendor (for example, the medical provider of a funeral home), and the check is sent to the employee so that they maintain the dignity of paying their own bills, says Lippert.

“In every scenario, we work to make sure that employee feels cared for and supported by their own company,” she says.

A People-Centric Culture

That assurance is something that is critical to the Genesis culture, says Robert “Mike” Reitz, an executive vice president of Genesis and president of the Genesis Employee Foundation Board of Directors. He says that for many years the company has worked to create a people-centric culture. “This isn’t a company-focused foundation, this is employees helping employees,” says Reitz. “If people feel better cared for, they will provide better care.” According to Reitz, the foundation started small, but it gained momentum as people saw their co-workers benefitting from the grants. “These grants are small and not life-changing, but they are designed to help people get back on their feet, and it works,” he says.

Back in 2005, the foundation reviewed on average nine grant requests each month. Now, the voting committee reviews an average of 85 grant requests per month.

“We’ve definitely seen an increase in requests,” says Lippert. “In the past three months, we’ve processed over 100 grants per month. We know there are many hardships our employees face, and we work hard to ensure our employees know about the foundation. Keeping both these factors in mind, recently employees are accessing the foundation more than ever before.”

In its 11 years of existence, Genesis has given 5,370 grants to employees. With a current budget of $1 million per year, Lippert runs the foundation on a full-time basis, along with two part-time staff members.

Getting A Helping Hand

According to Lippert, individuals with all kinds of professional backgrounds have taken advantage of the grants, including dietary aides, certified nurse assistants (CNAs), maintenance staff, nurses, and individuals at a higher level.

“If there’s an application that meets the criteria, we involve the center executive director where that employee works,” she says. “It is all handled confidentially, but most of the time, the director already knows about it.”

Of course, says Lippert, there are employees that the foundation cannot help. “Some are about to have their utilities turned off or they cannot pay their mortgage. For those, we work to connect them to existing resources.”

Over the course of her tenure at the foundation, Lippert says she has seen some tough cases. “Some people have trouble asking for help,” she says.

Taking An Extra Step To Help

Lippert recalls a gentleman who was a CNA. “He was one of those employees who would always come to work with a smile on his face,” she says. Unknown to the staff until much later, he had been going through cancer treatment. His wife was also very sick, and one day he went home after work and found her dead. The employee filed an application for help with expenses related to the funeral of his wife.
When Lippert’s team heard what the CNA was going through with both his recent loss and his own medical challenges, the foundation reached back out to him and encouraged him to apply for assistance for his medical expenses as well. They are currently waiting for his application.
The foundation recently helped another employee whose seven-year-old son jumped off the bed and broke his leg.
After taking him to the hospital, his mother ended up getting a bill for $10,000. “We connected her to a charity care program, and that reduced her bill by 70 percent as long as she could make the payments for a payment plan,” says Lippert. The foundation paid $1,500 toward the remaining medical bill.
“We have employees with all kinds of situations,” says Lippert. “We’re glad we can make a difference for them.”
For more information about the foundation, visit genesisemployeefoundation.org.