Some 25 years ago, Irvine, California, was the largest city in America without a hospital. Out of one redirected effort to meet that need, the Irvine Health Foundation (IHF) was born.
Early in the 1980s, the group People for an Irvine Community Hospital tried to establish a hospital. PICH eventually sold the rights for the project to a for-profit outfit, and the proceeds were used in 1985 to establish IHF. Today, IHF has a corpus of about $25 million and a mission to meet the health needs of the residents of Irvine and surrounding Orange County.
That task is more complicated today, however, than simply building hospitals. Orange County’s soaring population, from just over 1.9 million residents in 1980 to nearly 2.9 million today, and changing demographics, including a sharp rise in the number of Latino and Asian residents, have stressed the primary care system, created higher numbers of uninsured residents, and raised the language barriers between health care providers and those in need.
Ed Kacic, the foundation’s president, says at least 500,000 people in the county do not have access to regular health care. For this reason, IHF’s board recently decided to focus the foundation’s grantmaking on health care “safety net” issues. While IHF has historically provided grants to organizations that serve those without access to basic health care, the foundation’s goal now is to broaden its reach among the uninsured.
“We look for leverage and collaboration opportunities, because we are a small foundation,” Kacic says. To that end, the foundation leads in two ways: being out front in support for important new programs, and funding innovative solutions to complex problems.
As an example of the former, the foundation was the first organization to commit $1 million to the new hospital at the University of California, Irvine. “Our board is not afraid to be the first one in,” Kacic says.
As an example of the latter, IHF awards grants that help effective local health care providers expand their operations, which require more than just funding additional space or staff. A community clinic, for example, used an IHF grant to pay for a consultant to assist the clinic in acquiring (take a deep breath) “federally qualified health center look-alike status.” That status allows the clinic to receive higher reimbursements for services to those without health insurance. This improved the clinic’s revenue stream and allowed IHF to then issue a second grant that paid for legal counsel so the clinic could acquire other clinics and serve more uninsured persons.
Kacic says the relationship between IHF’s board and the foundation’s three-member staff is very good, “like a family.” The board stays active, Kacic continues, by going on site visits, sitting in on meetings with grantees and applicants, and working to stay informed about health issues and foundation management matters. Their involvement is more than curiosity-many of the foundation’s board members have been long-term players in Orange County’s health care problems. Several of the foundation’s past and present board members were part of the initial effort to build a hospital in the county. Our trustees “have a lot of expertise, and that benefits the foundation greatly,” he adds.
The foundation has also benefited from strategic investments. According to Kacic, IHF’s endowment has enjoyed “extremely good returns.” Speaking in millions of dollars, Kacic is succinct: “We started with 15, probably spent 30, and have about 25 now.”
Irvine Health Foundation was established to operate in perpetuity, but this is not etched in stone. “Our governing documents do not preclude us from spending out,” Kacic says. “We have strategic planning meetings every year” in which they revisit this issue.
The foundation finds its involvement with The Philanthropy Roundtable to be a natural, given IHF’s desire to learn and improve. “We like what the Roundtable does,” Kacic says. “We have always been a collaborative-based organization. You learn and you hope you can cause others to learn by your involvement. Philanthropy is a great industry for being collaborative and for learning.”
Craig Colgan is a writer in Washington, D.C.