Bean Proactive CDH Brews Up A Novel Idea

‘Coffee that’s as good as its intentions.’


That’s one of the slogans being used to promote Way Cooley Coffee, a new product that Cooley Dickinson Hospital (CDH) is now selling by the cup and the bag, with proceeds directed toward efforts to provide health care for the uninsured in Hampshire and Franklin counties.

CDH President and CEO Craig Melin told The Healthcare News that the hospital has a number of stated goals with its coffee venture, which was launched last fall at the hospital’s annual meeting, and is being conducted in conjunction with Dean’s Beans, the Orange-based roaster owned by Dean Cycon.

The bottom-line motivation is the general health of the community, said Melin, who said that, in this case, the term refers not only to Northampton area residents, — some of whom are uninsured or underinsured — but also to coffee growers worldwide who are trying to survive one of the most depressed markets in the industry’s history.

Indeed, the Way Cooley Coffee initiative was launched in part to help draw attention to the issue of fair trade in the coffee industry. The so-called fair-trade price, currently almost three times the market price, was set to give growers at least a fighting chance at earning a living wage, said Cycon, who has has waged a highly visible campaign to get more roasters, especially national powerhouses like Starbucks, Seattle’s Best, and Vermont-based Green Mountain Coffee to buy a higher percentage of fair-trade coffee.

“These companies are reporting record profits, and it comes from the fact but they’re paying farmers less than the cost of production,” said Cycon, referring to Starbucks and Green Mountain, which buy 1{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} and 12{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} of their coffee at fair trade prices, respectively. “I can’t understand why some of these companies are so profit-driven that they can’t see the human toll of what they’re doing.”

By selling — and eventually roasting its own — fair-trade coffee, CDH will help create awareness of the issue and, in so doing, help coffee growers, said Melin, adding, however, that the program’s primary goal is to provide financial support for Hampshire HealthConnect, a program that links uninsured individuals with coverage providers.

“We’re still putting the entire package together,” he said, referring to the specifics of roasting and distributing the Way Cooley brand. “When we get it all together, we’re going to start educating the public that when people buy really good coffee that’s also fair-trade coffee, which means it’s politically correct, they’re also supporting health programs for people who are uninsured.”

Blend of Emotions

Melin told The Healthcare News that the Way Cooley Coffee initiative is very much a work in progress.

The hospital, working in conjunction with a team of MBA students from UMass, is putting together a business plan for the venture, which started small, with coffee intended for consumption within the hospital, and later expanded to sales of one-pound bags in the facility’s gift shop. Eventually, the hospital intends to use a wood-chip-fueled facility that currently provides heat, hot water, and steam to also roast coffee. By doing so, CDH can generate more funds to support Hampshire HealthConnect and gain an additional source of fuel at the same time.

“The waste heat from the wood-fired plant will roast the coffee, so there’s no energy expense for the hospital,” Cycon explained. “And the chaff from the coffee byproduct will go into the fuel source. By roasting the coffee itself, the hospital can capture a greater amount of money for the uninsured program.”

Once the roasting operation is in place, CDH can begin distributing its brand, said Melin, noting that in socially conscious Northampton, most residents, business owners, physicians, and other health care workers are well aware of the fair-trade issue and will support it.

“In Northampton, fair trade fits the profile,” he said, noting that there are 1,600 employees at CDH and perhaps another 400 people working at physicians’ offices in the area, providing a solid base for distribution of the coffee, and making the program cyclical in nature; the hospital supplies to coffee to physicians of-fices and health care employees, then funnels the proceeds back into a comprehensive health care network that involves many of those same physicians.
Both Melin and Cycon said the CDH coffee program came together as a result of a shared philosophy of social responsibility on the part of the hospital and Dean’s Beans.

“We were approached by the hospital because we share similar values about community,” Cycon explained. “Cooley Dickinson is very community-oriented in its neighborhood, and we do a lot of community development work in the coffee villages around the world. We thought that the coffee Cooley Dickinson uses should reflect the way they do business; it was a great match.

Cycon said his company has designed and funded a number of health care initiatives in coffee-growing areas in Central America, South America, Asia, and Africa, and these efforts appealed to CDH. The programs funded by the company include a rural health clinic in East Timor and a café and coffee-roasting facility in Nicaragua that is owned and operated by a prosthetics clinic. All proceeds from coffee sales go to that facility, also known as the landmine clinic, he said, adding that post-therapy prosthetics patients can work in the café.

These initiatives are above and beyond the company’s commitment to buying 100{06cf2b9696b159f874511d23dbc893eb1ac83014175ed30550cfff22781411e5} fair-trade coffee, he said, noting that no other coffee roaster is engaging in such projects. “It’s a model, one that we created to show that people can still be profitable and successful — and we are both — and still repair some of the damage that trade has done in some of these communities over the centuries.

“My theory is that, in order for trade to be truly equitable between the parties, we want and need to address some of the problems that the villages are having and that we, in essence, take advantage of by buying coffee that’s produced there,” Cycon continued. “When I visit villages, they tell me what their needs are and what’s keeping them from getting where they want to go; often the issues are health care and clean water.”

Melin told The Healthcare News that he and other CDH administrators admired and supporting the work Cycon was doing, and wanted to be part of such initiatives by buying his coffee. During discussions about creating CDH’s own brand of coffee, however, both Melin and Cycon agreed that, while there are social needs to be addressed in Guatamala and Vietnam, there are also some pressing concerns in the hospital’s backyard.

“We asked ourselves, ‘do we really want to be supporting just the health and welfare of people in foreign countries, when we have many people in the Hampshire County area who are uninsured?’” said Melin. “Couldn’t we take the proceeds and direct them to the care needs of people in this community? Dean was very comfortable with that idea.”

Thus, funds will be directed to a health care network that represents a collaborative effort between CDH and the Hampshire Community Access Coalition (HCAC). The hospital has a program called Hampshire HealthConnect, while HCAC runs an initiative called Hampshire HealthAccess, and the two are essentially conjoined.
The programs identify individuals who are uninsured and attempt to sign them up with appropriate insurance providers. Those not eligible for insurance are directed to a network of physicians who have agreed to provide care on a sliding fee scale. What the coffee sales will do is provide a new source to fund the physician network to extend its reach and enable it to provide care to more people.

If there is a downside to CDH’s planned coffee enterprise, it is in the preliminary calculations which show that, when all is said and done, it may wind up being a losing proposition for the hospital.

Indeed, as Melin explained, by reducing the amount of free care it administers, the hospital will decrease the amount of support it receives from the state’s uncompensated care pool.

“The only glitch in this whole thing for me is that, the more we do to reduce the cost of free care — conceptually, that should reduce the cost of care for the Commonwealth, and, therefore, that should help everyone — the economics of doing so actually hurt Cooley Dickinson,” he said. “So we’re trying to sort that one out.

“We’re going to do it anyway because it’s what we should be doing,” he continued, “but it’s frustrating — the way it works now, Cooley Dickinson carries the economic burden of helping people stay healthy.”

In the Bag

Melin said the timetable for creating a roasting operation at the hospital has not been finalized. There will be a learning curve for facilities employees at the hospital, he said, noting that Cycon will assist CDH with the project and will continue to supply the facility with beans.
Eventually, the air around the hospital should smell sweeter, said Melin, adding that the aromatic enhancement will be only one of many benefits to be derived from CDH’s coffee venture.

“This is another way for us to make our community healthier,” he said, again referring to the local and global aspects of that word. “And while doing it, we can provide people with great-tasting coffee. That’s a true win-win.”

“We were approached by the hospital because we share similar values about community. Cooley Dickinson is very community-oriented in its neighborhood, and we do a lot of community development work in the coffee villages around the world. We thought that the coffee Cooley Dickinson uses should reflect the way they do business; it was a great match.”