Over the last several decades, I have witnessed firsthand the power of philanthropy—using charitable dollars as venture capital to solve some of society’s toughest challenges and create real, meaningful change in our communities. As the new President and CEO of the Legacy Health Foundation (LHE), my goal is to bring this power to Stanislaus and Merced counties.
The Legacy Health Endowment is new. Founded in 2014 and based in Turlock, it was created from the proceeds of the sale of Emanuel Medical Center, Inc., which were placed into a charitable foundation tasked with improving the health and wellbeing of area residents.
Through nonprofit healthcare facilities, LHE will focus on creating and funding programs that provide medical services, health screenings and testing, health education, preventative health care, medical education, research, wellness and other much-needed health services to residents of these two counties.
To gain a deeper understanding of the health challenges in this region, I have spent the past three months traveling extensively through these two counties, meeting with community health leaders and experts, college and university officials, physicians and nurses, nonprofit leaders and elected officials. I have taken every opportunity to engage residents and to get to know the people, families and community groups that LHE is charged with helping.
The challenges facing Stanislaus and Merced counties are real: a shortage of primary care physicians, particularly specialists; an insufficient focus on the needs of non-Medicaid eligible working families; the lack of a community-based long-term care system to help middle class families; a crumbling mental health system; and a desperate need to focus on wellness for those communities fraught with multiple chronic disease conditions, such as diabetes.
I believe the Legacy Health Endowment is uniquely positioned to help face these challenges.
Why? Because foundations have a unique ability to forge community consensus and bring together disparate parties to tackle challenges in new ways, and the philanthropic resources to test programs before public money is spent—a prudent way to proceed in an era of tight budgets. Philanthropy can also take bigger risks than the public sector, testing the merit of new and innovative ideas, even when faced with strong interest group opposition.
I have seen this power in action many times. At the Heinz Family Philanthropies—where I was President—we tackled major problems facing people with HIV/AIDS by crafting a private sector solution that both increased access to affordable medications and saved public money. In Florida, we led a team of experts that analyzed the state’s group purchasing programs and made recommendations that could save Florida tens of millions of dollars. And, working with the Mayor’s office in Newark, NJ, we brought together pharmaceutical companies and primary care providers to create a medical home where patients could get medications and treatment without visiting the emergency room. Costs went down and health outcomes improved dramatically.
Unlike many charitable foundations, LHE will focus on changing the healthcare landscape for families of all incomes and backgrounds. LHE understands that rising healthcare costs also impact an increasing number of middle-class families who earn too much to qualify for programs like Medicaid, but cannot afford the private health care system. These people cannot be allowed to fall through the cracks.
At a time when far too many veterans are homeless, middle class families are struggling to pay for needed healthcare, and Medicaid recipients are challenged to find providers, we have an opportunity to change the healthcare landscape as a community. Our goal is to embrace everyone willing to help—including pharmaceutical manufacturers, who are vilified by some, but not by me.
If we truly wish to solve our healthcare challenges, we must reach across the aisle to find common ground and employ common sense. Our goal is to create healthcare solutions that work – not rhetoric that sounds good.
— Jeffrey Lewis is the President and CEO of Legacy Health Endowment (firstname.lastname@example.org)