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Barbara Hensley lost both her mother and her two sisters to breast cancer.
While one of her sisters was undergoing treatment, Barbara would often spend time at the hospital, keeping her company. As a frequent visitor she met many other patients, including a woman named Nancy. While Barbara understood clearly the medical and physical challenges impacting Nancy, during their chats she discovered there was even more that Nancy was dealing with.
“Barbara was surprised that Nancy was bringing her three kids to her appointments,” says Jamie Flaws, executive director of Hope Chest for Breast Cancer Foundation. “Nancy had no other option -- she had no family to help her or the means to put them in child care. She didn't have a car and was using the bus system to get to each appointment.”
Quickly Barbara realized that many of the patients there needed more than medical and emotional support -- they needed financial help. Inspired by her loved one’s memories and the patients she had met first-hand, in 2001 Barbara resigned from her corporate position and decided to launch the Hope Chest for Breast Cancer Foundation. A consignment and resale shop, the proceeds from the store in Orono, Minnesota, funded her fledgling foundation.
“The foundation’s beginnings were very one to one, and made passion, empathy, and insight the focus of what we still do today,” says Flaws.
The organization has matured in its nearly 20 years, expanding to events and fundraising in order to even better serve breast cancer patients across their state.
Hope Chest for Breast Cancer Foundation’s grant program, the heart of its support structure, aims to connect patients with the funds they need to make ends meet, and as quickly as possible.
“Far and away the biggest need is in rent and mortgage payments,” says Flaws. “It’s a cost that’s not really supported by other programs.” Grants are also given to cover transportation -- be it bus fare or car repair -- utilities, child care, and nutrition. The only requirements are that the applicant must be undergoing treatment, be a resident of Minnesota, and may only receive assistance once every 12 months.
“There are so many organizations that support research, which is great, but very few that help patients in treatment with their pressing needs.”
The financial needs of patients can be urgent -- many are on unpaid leave or have lost their jobs due to their average treatment requiring 45 days away from work. So Hope Chest for Breast Cancer Foundation’s payment distribution objective is to receive, approve, and grant funding out in as quick a timeline as possible.
“We work with healthcare providers throughout the metro and state, often nurse navigators or social workers as they are the primary point of contact for those patients needing more support.” says Flaws. “Those individuals are one of our primary mechanisms for outreach and how patients often become aware of Hope Chest for Breast Cancer Foundation, and one of the most trusted. Often times hearing about us from them is enough for a patient to come to the website and apply.”
Previously, however, the application process was a bit complicated and not very efficient.
“We had an intake form online, but it wasn't easy to apply and we weren’t able to administer it well,” admits Flaws. “We were reliant on medical providers to manage distribution of funds for us. There was a lot of red tape. Helping people was not quick, not consistent, and we were not able to get intel about our patients’ needs.”
Frustrated with the inability to quickly serve their community, the Hope Chest team began looking for a grants management software system that could improve how they connected with applicants and how they granted assistance.
While many systems did not allow for customization of process flow or tailoring how applications were reviewed, Hope Chest for Breast Cancer Foundation found an ideal match with Zengine by WizeHive.
Working with our requirements and implementation teams, they were able to create a grant application process that delivered on ease of accessibility and speed.
In the new process, patients are asked to complete a short online questionnaire that collects basic information on who they are, their diagnosis, and what their support system is like, as well as the opportunity to prioritize where they want financial assistance.
Upload fields mean applicants can share their bills, providing not only real-time information on amounts but also allowing the Hope Chest team to process payment directly to the collector. And with the third-party request feature, the application even includes having the patient authorize their healthcare partner to validate their active treatment, meaning one less call for the grant manager and a lot less waiting time for all involved.
Designed to take less than 10 minutes, the application also has an algorithm behind it that auto-assigns a score and helps the grants team prioritize who needs funding.
“As soon as it’s validated, we can authorize payment in as little as 3-5 days,” says Flaws. “It’s now a very simplified process. Unfortunately a lot of times someone might be facing being evicted or collections, and there is an immediate necessity to intervene and help.”
“The changes that we’ve experienced moving to WizeHive have been multifold,” says Flaws. “The system has made our program very turnkey and something that our partners have confidence in. It’s truly accelerated the speed at which we can administer grants and become more intelligent about the needs of those we serve.
“It also helps us to better fundraise. With the data we can now collect I can go out and say, ‘The #1 area of need is mortgage payments.’ When I can go and share that with a potential partner it means more.
“What’s really been fascinating to me is seeing the way it changes the conversation. The receptiveness changes when a health system or social worker hears that we have an easy, open, online process -- and that’s a win win. We win, the patient wins, the donor wins.”