He was just sixteen and behind the wheel of his local pharmacy’s delivery car. Jeffrey A. Flaks was driving through New Haven, Connecticut, dropping supplies at nursing homes, assisted living facilities, physician offices, surgical centers, and community hospitals. It was his first job in high school, and he was already developing relationships with caregivers in a variety of settings, seeing empathy and compassion firsthand.
Perhaps the values he learned along that route led him to Hartford HealthCare. Or, perhaps the notion of giving back and caring for others was simply ingrained in him for as long as he can remember. Growing up, Flaks’s grandfather taught him that he had an obligation to make the world a better place.
“There was this notion, in many ways, of having the willingness to dream, to think big, and to appreciate that we have a great opportunity to contribute, to make a difference, and that we have an obligation to do the very best that we could,” says Flaks, president and chief operating officer of Hartford HealthCare.
His parents were public school teachers, and, along with his grandfather’s words of wisdom, they taught him the importance of integrity, caring, excellence, and trust—all of which he has brought with him to Hartford HealthCare, Connecticut’s most comprehensive healthcare network. It’s not only the renowned specialists that are viewed in the highest regard, but also the entire organization’s commitment to give back to others. It’s a tradition that dates back more than a century.
“We have a very strong focus within our health system on that tradition of really understanding our responsibility to contribute to the health and well-being of our community,” Flaks says. “It’s the area of my own work that gives me the greatest personal fulfillment, the greatest satisfaction and pride to know that I have this opportunity to be part of an organization that values community like we do and substantially makes a difference.”
There are three programs in particular that stand out for Flaks that demonstrate the substantial difference the hospital system is making in the Hartford area.
Several years ago, Hartford HealthCare made a commitment to help at-risk youth in the state’s capital enroll in college. Hartford Hospital is the region’s Level 1 trauma center. Flaks and the leadership team recognized that healthcare and socioeconomics go hand in hand when it comes to well-being.
Through the Hartford Promise program, students can qualify for a full scholarship to a four-year college. To be eligible, students must maintain a 3.0 GPA, have a 93 percent attendance record, and be a resident of Hartford throughout their high school careers, and they must have attended a Hartford public high school since ninth grade.
“We are really committed to the Hartford Promise,” Flaks says. “It makes a generational difference in people’s lives and the future of different families.”
Home Ownership Incentive Program
Proving that socioeconomics and healthcare directly tie together, Flaks and his team also helped launch Hartford HealthCare’s Home Ownership Incentive Program (HIP), which created a loan that covers the closing costs of a home purchase for employees. Through the program, Hartford HealthCare provides a structured forgivable loan with debt that can shrink over a number of years. It assists staff members in buying their first home in designated areas of the capital city.
“I personally attended the closings for a number of these homeowners, and it’s watching people realize the American Dream,” Flaks says. “In many instances, these are people who have never lived in a house that they’ve owned in terms of their upbringing or family, and when they go and sign those documents, and are given the keys and walk through their own front door—to witness it is really overwhelming.”
For Hartford HealthCare and its staff, investing in neighbors and communities is creating vitality. “We’re reinventing the strength and sustainability of the city of Hartford, and we’re helping staff members of our organization begin to create that pathway to their future and get equity. That’s a special thing,” Flaks says.
Take Charge of Your Health
In 2012, Hartford HealthCare officially launched Take Charge of Your Health, a program designed to help communities most affected by health and healthcare disparities to address health issues and improve their well-being. Having reached more than three thousand people in the Hartford area, Flaks says the program brings mobile screenings—such as mobile mammography, prostate screenings, and blood draws—directly to people in culturally sensitive ways.
“We connect people to healthcare,” Flaks says. “There have been so many examples of people through these screenings and through these processes where we’ve identified their life-saving health circumstances.”
Just as Flaks recalls the route he drove as a sixteen-year-old, these programs are creating an avenue to connect people in the community with the same values his grandfather taught him years ago. Now he’s seeing those same values imbedded every day in the culture of Hartford HealthCare.
As Flaks explains, everyone in the hospital system is encouraged to make a difference. The team starts with a daily huddle, focusing on recognition, communication, innovative ideas, and quality improvement. It’s referred to as H3W, or How Hartford HealthCare Works.
“Our staff understands that they can make a contribution to make a difference,” he says. “They are expected to contribute ideas, they are expected to be part of quality improvement initiatives, they recognize each other in this process, and they communicate together.”
And that culture resonates throughout the organization, starting with leadership, as Flaks and CEO Elliot Joseph lead with a coach’s mentality. With a strong relationship that dates back more than twenty years, Flaks says they have a willingness to take calculated risks, and the notion of giving back and paying it forward is a passion they’ve transcended throughout the organization.
“When you see the way that we’ve created boundary-less healthcare and the capacity to improve quality, it’s absolutely phenomenal,” Flaks says. “We’ve really become a health system through integration that has the capacity to provide personalized, coordinated care in a way that adds tremendous value to our individual patients and to our community.”
Giving Back from Connecticut to Puerto Rico
Hartford HealthCare has been giving back to the community for decades. So it’s no surprise that when Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico in 2017, staff members came together to launch Hartford HealthCares to raise funding for a generator in Hartford HealthCare’s sister hospital, Hospital General Castañer.
Jeffrey A. Flaks says the hospital system has recognized the impact it can make in the Hartford community, and now that same impact is being felt outside of the city’s borders.
“It’s really a way that we can galvanize the strength and resources and commitment of our organization when anything like that would occur, whether it’s local, national, or otherwise,” Flaks says.
Photos by Chris Rakoczy