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Driscoll Foundation gift supports social policy research

Maya Meinertby Maya Meinert
Philanthropy is important to Wyatt Driscoll, left, and his father, Rudy. (Photo/Courtesy of USC School of Social Work)
Philanthropy is important to Wyatt Driscoll, left, and his father, Rudy. (Photo/Courtesy of USC School of Social Work)

When a traumatic football injury led to more than a month in the hospital and 15 surgeries for Wyatt Driscoll, the 17-year-old and his family became acquainted with the U.S. health care system all too well.

His father, Rudy Driscoll Jr., spent much of the 39-day hospital stay attempting to navigate the system to ensure that his son received the best and most appropriate care possible. The father found that important information, including that on his son’s drug allergies, wasn’t always communicated from one medical team to another, of which there were many. And dealing with primary and secondary insurance companies was no walk in the park.

“Experiencing the health care system firsthand clearly showed us how complicated and inefficient the system is and the importance and need for change,” Rudy Driscoll said. “If I hadn’t been there to advocate for Wyatt, things would have been a disaster.”

Despite the less-than-ideal circumstances, Wyatt Driscoll saw that good could come out of his situation.

Not only did he become good friends with his orthopaedic surgeon, who got him a position setting up the equipment and database at Stanford University’s Human Performance Lab for a study on treating and preventing knee and ankle injuries — the published article will include his name — the young man decided to turn his hospital experience into an opportunity to help others by supporting research at the USC School of Social Work.

He requested a gift of $100,000 from the Driscoll Foundation to establish an endowment for the Wyatt D.D.W. Driscoll Fund, which will pay for expenses of the Margaret W. Driscoll/Louise M. Clevenger Professor of Social Policy and Administration currently held by Professor Bruce Jansson.

“Philanthropy has always been very important to me and my family, and after my stay in the hospital last year, I realized how important it is to give back to the people and places that helped you in difficult times and also give to causes that you deem important,” Wyatt Driscoll said. “I value education above many things and believe one of the main keys to success in life is a great education. I believe our gift will help bring a great education to many people.”

The Driscoll/Clevenger Professor of Social Policy and Administration was established in 1997 by Rudolph Driscoll Sr., who wanted to honor his mother’s mission to give back to society and help those less fortunate than herself.

Rudy Driscoll said that his forward-thinking grandmother, Margaret “Peggy” Driscoll, was an early supporter of the United Negro College Fund, Second Harvest Food Bank and Elderhostel, which offers travel and educational programs for senior citizens. She knew that the best way to help the disadvantaged was through academic research, the results of which would then be used to set policy and find the best solutions.

To that end, professorship holder Jansson has proved to be a pioneer in advancing case advocacy and policy advocacy in social work. He invented the term “policy practice” in the 1984 release of The Theory and Practice of Social Policy, which was succeeded by numerous books and editions on the topic, including Improving Healthcare Through Advocacy: A Guide for the Health and Helping Professions. The latter uses new case advocacy and policy frameworks and more than 100 case studies to explain how health care professionals, including social workers, can better navigate the U.S. health care system for clients and patients. The Council on Social Work Education now requires social work schools to teach policy practice as a recognized intervention.

Jansson is currently working on a study that will explore how health professionals can best advocate for the needs of vulnerable patients. The project will create new tools to measure various aspects of patient advocacy, including the extent to which medical residents, nurses and social workers champion the needs of their clients. It will also examine the organizational atmosphere in which advocacy takes place — the level of support for advocacy among hospital officials and the responsiveness of health care providers as a whole to the specific needs of patients.

“We are very fortunate to have professors such as Bruce Jansson working to fulfill my grandmother’s vision of supporting the vulnerable and disadvantaged,” Rudy Driscoll said. “We believe that this new endowment created to pay related expenses of the holder of the professorship is a fitting way to support Peggy’s vision.”

Marilyn L. Flynn, dean of the USC School of Social Work, noted that support of research such as Jansson’s makes it possible for USC to be one of the top research universities in the United States.

“As a premier research institution, USC, and the School of Social Work are always looking to lead the way in solving society’s most pressing issues,” Flynn said. “We do that through the innovation that can come only through forward-thinking research. This latest gift from the Driscoll Foundation will help us shine a light on those areas that need the most help, in this case health care policy advocacy, to ensure a brighter future for all.”

Rudy Driscoll hopes that his family’s gifts lead to research that will help those who need it most for generations to come.

“Tradition, family values and social responsibility are very important to our family,” he said. “Our relationship with the USC School of Social Work through the generations is one that we plan to continue.”

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