St. Charles to focus on reducing loneliness, fostering belonging through funding priority

Effort coincides with U.S. Surgeon General initiative to combat loneliness

Today, St. Charles Health System is announcing a new focus for its Community Benefit funding: reducing feelings of loneliness and social isolation while fostering a sense of belonging among Central Oregonians. This priority funding area means that, for the next three years, St. Charles will direct thousands in grant funding to community organizations to target loneliness and isolation.

“We are increasingly seeing that loneliness and depression are root causes of a number of health problems and societal problems, and the pandemic has only exacerbated that issue,” said Molly Wells Darling, administrative director of Behavioral Health Services for St. Charles. “If we can help people feel less lonely by connecting with others and becoming part of a community, we know that Central Oregon will be healthier community.”

The announcement of this priority funding area comes alongside U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy’s introduction of a new initiative to combat loneliness and isolation, writing in an op-ed in the New York Times that this must be a “top public health priority” for the country.

“We need to acknowledge the loneliness and isolation that millions are experiencing and the grave consequences for our mental health, physical health and collective well-being,” wrote Murthy.

St. Charles leadership believes access to mental health care is a major need in Central Oregon. As part of the Community Benefit program, the health system will partner with local organizations working to address loneliness, social isolation and belonging to capitalize on the energy that surrounds the subject. The Community Benefit department will dedicate grant dollars to groups that are trying to provide opportunities to decrease feelings of loneliness and social isolation in communities across the region. Exactly how that looks will be up to the individual communities, according to Carlos Salcedo, manager of community partnerships for St. Charles.

“Our hope is that each community will choose where to focus their time and energy around this issue. Maybe one will focus on older adults while another focuses on supporting youth or new parents finding community,” he said. “St. Charles may find itself supporting communities in a variety of ways, such as offering financial assistance for projects identified by the community or providing relevant research to enable people to move forward in redefining what it means to be part of a community in Central Oregon.”

Reducing feelings of loneliness and social isolation while fostering a sense of belonging was identified as a priority based on the 2023-2025 Community Health Needs Assessment, which brought together population health data, input from community members, community survey results and analysis of available community resources to address health needs.

About St. Charles Health System

St. Charles Health System, Inc., headquartered in Bend, Ore., owns and operates St. Charles Bend, Madras, Prineville and Redmond. It also owns family care clinics in Bend, Madras, Prineville, Redmond, La Pine and Sisters. St. Charles is a private, not-for-profit Oregon corporation and is the largest employer in Central Oregon with more than 4,500 caregivers. In addition, there are more than 350 active medical staff members and nearly 200 visiting medical staff members who partner with the health system to provide a wide range of care and service to our communities.