Glaxo seeks community input on its donations

Posted: April 11, 2013

GlaxoSmithKline P.L.C. officially opened its 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, toothpaste 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," Glaxo chief executive Andrew Witty said during a recent interview at the new building.

"There are areas where our expertise can really add something," said Witty, whose London-based company donated $5 million to the city in 2011 to help educational programs. "It is amazing how often we find it might be as simple as acting as a catalyst to get the right groups together."

In September, the company and the magazine brought together more than 20 groups at WHYY - 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 generally have the access to and trust of neighborhood residents, she said, 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 neighborhood 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 medicines for ailments including heart disease, arthritis and type 2 diabetes.

Cornman-Levy said that her groups help people understand and stick with properly prescribed medication, creating a "win-win-win" for all concerned, but that 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.


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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