Healthy Endowments

Behind the scenes, local health foundations are behind major health initiatives impacting the community

click to enlarge Healthy Endowments
Jessie Hynes

Joyce Cameron, Chief Development Officer for the Providence Health Foundation, hears the question all the time. She'll hear it when visiting with potential donors in the community. She'll hear it from friends. And she'll hear it from nurses she sees in the very same hospital she's raising money for.

What exactly does the foundation do?

The answer, in one sense, is simple. Providence Health Foundation raises money for six Providence hospitals in Spokane and Spokane County.

In another sense, the answer is more complicated. As it raises money for Providence hospitals, the foundation must anticipate the health needs of the community, and meet them.

"Even though we're just raising money for hospitals," Cameron says, "it's really for the entire community, because the people being cared for and treated are in our communities."

Large health foundations raising money for hospitals, like Providence and Kootenai Health, have more influence on the community than people may think. The same can be said for other local health foundations, such as Empire Health Foundation or the newly formed Group Health Community Foundation, which both give money for specific causes.

Often, they all work together for the community's benefit.

Contrary to popular belief, hospital systems like Kootenai and Providence don't have a ton of money lying around for new buildings, says Julie Holt, Kootenai Health Foundation president.

"In order to keep up with the growth in the community, we have to grow," Holt says. "For hospitals on their own with their normal finances, it's really hard to be able to grow and build so that the community has everything it needs."

That's where health foundations come in. The Kootenai Health Foundation is in the process of raising money for a new operating room and for an expansion of the emergency department. The goal is $12.5 million, and right now the foundation is at about $8 million, Holt says.

Legally, foundations like Kootenai Health and Providence Health cannot give money to anybody. But through collaborations with other organizations, they can still serve the community in other ways. Partnering with the Community Cancer Fund (CCF) and the Ronald McDonald House Charities of the Inland Northwest, Kootenai intends to open a hospitality center that would serve Kootenai patients. With one-third of all Kootenai Health patients coming from outside of the county, the idea is to give patients and their families a place to stay at a low cost.

"It's for cancer patients that are from out of the area and need a place to stay while going through chemotherapy or radiation," Holt says. "It's a lower price than a hotel."

Cameron, with the Providence Foundation, says raising capital funds is actually becoming more important now for hospitals.

"They're really counting on philanthropists to step up to the plate and provide funding for some of these things," she says. "And luckily, we've been able to do that."

The Providence Health Foundation helped fund a new clinic for homeless people living at downtown Spokane's House of Charity homeless shelter, which opened as a 24/7 clinic in early August. It's also working on a dental residency project, partnering with CHAS Health and the Spokane District Dental Society, to improve access to dental care for low-income adults in Spokane.

That kind of thing isn't uncommon, Cameron says. Often, she finds herself asking local health foundations, like Empire Health, for support.

Empire Health Foundation was created out of the sale of Deaconess and Valley Medical in 2008. Its role as a foundation is different than hospital foundations, says president Antony Chiang — it gives out grants to improve health, and sometimes makes grants to those hospital foundations.

Until recently, Empire was the largest health conversion foundation in the state. Now, the Group Health Community Foundation, created through the sale of Group Health to Kaiser Permanente, is the state's largest. If Empire is any kind of model, it can have a major impact on the community.

Empire focuses on about a dozen projects in the local community aimed at preventing negative health outcomes. Most notably, it has worked with Rogers High School and Spokane Public Schools to reduce the number of out-of-school suspensions, and the negative impact on students that come along with those suspensions. This may, on the surface, sound like something outside the realm of a health foundation, but that couldn't be further from the truth, says Chiang. It's an "upstream preventative measure" that can improve students' mental health and reduce Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES), which will in turn lessen the risk of health issues in the future.

Along those lines, Empire Health is partnering with Catholic Charities to reduce the number of kids placed in foster care. It's also focusing on changing the way food is served in school, with the goal of preventing obesity.

For Chiang, helping people get better today is only part of the health foundation's mission.

The other part?

"How can we prevent them from being unhealthy in the future?"♦

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About The Author

Wilson Criscione

Wilson Criscione is the Inlander’s news editor. Aside from writing and editing investigative news stories, he enjoys hiking, watching basketball and spending time with his wife and cat.