Glaxo seeks community input on its programs

Exterior of the GlaxoSmithKline building. The odd angles have a purpose, to deflect glare or increase light, and the curved facade references the ships docked at the Navy Yard. The new building replaces offices in a Center City high-rise at 16th and Vine Streets.
Exterior of the GlaxoSmithKline building. The odd angles have a purpose, to deflect glare or increase light, and the curved facade references the ships docked at the Navy Yard. The new building replaces offices in a Center City high-rise at 16th and Vine Streets. (AKIRA SUWA / Staff Photographer)
Posted: April 10, 2013

GlaxoSmithKline P.L.C. officially opened its new soaring glass Navy Yard building on Saturday, but the pharmaceutical giant was already embarked on a street-level project to help it connect with consumers of its medicines, tooth paste and other products - its Healthy Communities initiative.

Philadelphia, St. Louis and Denver are cities in which Glaxo and the Atlantic magazine have hosted leaders of community groups that directly or indirectly help people with health care. While not exactly alike, each city faces problems of aging populations with chronic diseases, bulging waistlines and shrinking budgets. Glaxo is still sorting through what it has learned before taking its next steps.

"We don't want to be simply a supplier of medicine into a system," said Glaxo chief executive Andrew Witty, whose London-based company donated $5 million to the city in 2011 to help educational programs. "We recognize the whole health care challenge is complex. There are areas where our expertise can really add something. It is amazing how often we find it might be as simple as acting as a catalyst to get the right groups together. The Healthy Communities initiative is a good example, where we get people together to talk about what is needed. That might guide us in some of our donation programs."

The September gathering in Philadelphia, held at WHYY, had more than 20 groups represented - some predictable, such as hospitals and academic medicine, but some less obvious.

"The first step is listening and they brought together many of the major groups that deal with health-care advocacy," said Yael Lehmann, executive director of The Food Trust, a Center City-based nonprofit that has worked to get more fruits and vegetables on the plates of city residents in hopes of reducing obesity, and the chronic diseases it spawns or exacerbates. "We'll see what comes out of it."

Diane Cornman-Levy, executive director of the Federation of Neighborhood Centers (FNC), was a panelist at the September meeting. She, too, is waiting to see tangible results of the discussion. Beyond funding to community-based organizations, she wants powerful health care players such as Glaxo to push harder to forge previously-unlikely partnerships and help change health care from a fee-for-service system to one that prevents diseases and provides incentives for better outcomes.

Community-based groups, she said, generally have the access to and trust of neighborhood residents, allowing them to overcome historical wariness of health care providers, illiteracy, cultural blindness and confusion about directions from doctors.

The Lutheran Settlement House on Frankford Avenue in Kensington is one of 12 FNC community centers. During a pause in bingo games last week, several seniors said cheaper drug prices would help.

"They should also help with a better dental plan because some of us still have teeth," said Audrey Amaker, 71. Fellow bingo player Charlotte Ruppert, 79, said she takes 20 different medicines for ailments including heart disease, arthritis and type 2 diabetes.

Cornman-Levy said her groups help people understand and stick with properly prescribed medication, creating a "win-win-win" for all concerned, but the long-term goals of community groups and a for-profit company have to mesh.

"Particularly with a pharmaceutical company, they will need to invest time in the partnership," Cornman-Levy said. "Do we have common outcomes and goals in mind? If we do and that's how we come together, it can work out very well."


Contact David Sell at 215-854-4506, dsell@ phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @ phillypharma. Read his blog at www.philly.com/phillypharma.

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