Adaptive golf program gets new life as OhioHealth Fore Hope

In 1989, Mindy Derr founded Fore Hope. Her father, an avid golfer, had become disabled after he retired.

“I had heard about other programs in the nation to help people with life barriers. My background was in nonprofit, and I thought, ‘You know, I think maybe I could get something going for my dad and other people,’” Derr says.

Mindy Derr

The organization’s adaptive golf programs helped thousands of people in the Central Ohio region for more than two decades.

Derr says the nonprofit made it through the 2008, 2009 recession relatively easily. But around 2012, the group lost a major corporate funder. Its financial stability and the very future of the organization were threatened.

“Mindy reached out to not just us, but some other organizations, to look at how a partnership might come that would keep the Fore Hope program viable,” says Dr. Janet Bay, neurosurgeon and system vice president of OhioHealth’s Neuroscience program. “In talking with some of the participants and looking at the program and what it offered, it seemed like a wonderful extension of our other neuroscience program offerings here at OhioHealth.”

Dr. Janet Bay

Derr says Fore Hope spent all of 2016 working on its relationship with OhioHealth, and the nonprofit ceased to be an independent organization last fall, officially becoming OhioHealth Fore Hope.

Finding the fit

It took time to educate OhioHealth’s leadership as to why it should acquire another not-for-profit, Bay says.

“Like anything else in business, some things are not fast and this was a lengthy courtship, if you will,” she says.

The concept wasn’t foreign to Bay, whose neuroscience group had already absorbed “Delay the Disease,” an evidence-based fitness program designed for people with Parkinson’s disease. But she had to paint a picture about how therapeutic golf could help fill in the continuum of care for OhioHealth’s patients.

While OhioHealth is a large organization, it has different business units within it. Bay says neuroscience is an area where the team has a great passion for taking care of the patient population and that can translate into a willingness to do things that are not typical, like Fore Hope.

For Derr, she says nonprofits are always looking for a succession plan because it’s critical to have people carry on your work. Fore Hope had worked with OhioHealth’s therapists already, and that helped cement the deal.

“It was a natural fit, which is why we just kept hoping and praying and believing that this would just simply be the next step for Fore Hope,” Derr says.

It took five years to find an answer to what was going to happen to the organization. She says the key was patience and understanding that she and her board had to live with the outcome. However it turned out, they knew they tried their best.

Once the deal went through, Derr felt relieved, but then anxious all over again about whether Fore Hope would live up to OhioHealth’s expectations.

Today, Derr serves as an adviser to help provide OhioHealth with her institutional knowledge and connections in the golf community.

“You can feel the momentum. I think getting some people hired to do the hands-on work and getting the first league set up makes it all the more real,” Bay says. “We have a very good team that’s helping Mindy.”

Empowering all

OhioHealth Fore Hope opened one golf league this spring at Safari Golf Club, with another slated for the fall. People with traumatic brain injuries, stroke, multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s disease can also sign up for individual or group instruction.

OhioHealth is a conservative organization that likes to build on what works.

“So we’ll start on a smaller scale to make sure that it’s successful and then enlarge it — and I have a feeling that will happen pretty rapidly,” Bay says.

There is no underestimating the need for something like this, she says. The participants don’t just benefit physically, but also socially and psychologically by having a community of like-minded individuals.

They also have different goals. Some want to get stronger and improve their balance. Others have a slight physical handicap and want to use the program to improve their golf game in an environment that wouldn’t be embarrassing.

Golfers who have had strokes can swing their golf club with one side of their body and still maintain balance, which continues to amaze Bay.

She also recalls one participant who told her how he was very depressed when he first joined Fore Hope. He had a major brain hemorrhage in his 30s and could no longer work. He felt useless, sitting at home, but the program changed his whole attitude on life.

“Talking to him made me even more of an advocate for this program, because I thought this is the kind of thing as a health care organization — truly health care, not just sickness care — we should be doing,” Bay says.

Derr says often the golfers are a bit forlorn when they join, but she knows they’re feeling better when they start complaining about their golf game like everybody else.

She’s just glad Fore Hope will continue to provide a place for these golfers for years to come.

“We’re fortunate that’s for sure,” Derr says. “I feel my dad and all that have gone before are watching over us, and helping guide us through this, because it’s a miracle that we’re here.”