Finding its way: Foundation severs formal ties to hospital, forges new mission
The most affluent, prominent charity in Haywood County has reinvented its mission but hopes to remain on donors’ radar as it moves toward a larger goal: improving health care in the community.
Few private philanthropic groups can top the fundraising prowess seen by the former Haywood Regional Medical Center Foundation over the years. It raised $14 million in two decades — an impressive feat in a not-so-big community.
But the recent sale of the Haywood hospital to the for-profit network Duke LifePoint called the foundation’s future into question. Legally, it could no longer provide direct support to the hospital.
“We basically had the option of folding up shop, or creating a new mission and moving forward,” said Foundation Board Member Chris Williams, an executive with First Citizens Bank in Waynesville.
Walking away would have been the easy route but would have left a void in the community, said Foundation Chair Ginger Lang. So, the foundation decide to remake itself with a larger healthcare focus that extends beyond the hospital campus.
“The hospital can now take care of things that we used to take care of,” said Lang, whose husband is a radiologist at Haywood. “It gives us an opportunity to address what the community perceives as unmet health care needs. We were doing that before, but in a very channeled way.”
To Lang, the transition is a milestone full of promise.
“Expanding our mission, to me, that is the most exciting part of it,” Lang said.
Board members admit some of the donor support they have gotten in the past will dry up, however. People are often inspired to give to the hospital because it’s where their children were born, where their husband died, where they were touched by the kindness of a nurse during recovery from surgery.
While the foundation had its share of ringers writing generous checks, the donor circle was far-reaching.
More than 6,000 individuals gave to the hospital foundation since its inception 23 years ago.
Lang believes community support will follow the foundation’s new mission.
“We will hopefully gain other support because we will be touching so many new areas,” Williams said.
The former hospital foundation had another advantage in the fundraising arena. Its tangible big-ticket projects were easy sells — like the fitness center, the new emergency department, the new outpatient surgery center and the new hospice center. Even the smaller projects — like remodeling the labor and delivery wing or buying new surgery equipment — came with visible results capped by ribbon-cutting receptions.
“It is easy to say we are renovating the fourth floor or building a hospice,” Williams said. “Donors will now want to know ‘what am I giving to?’ We will have to tell our story.”
Tailoring a new mission didn’t happen overnight. The board spent months contemplating the directions it could go and ultimately decided to leave it open-ended.
“We wanted to make sure we had the ability to be nimble,” said Gavin Brown, also a foundation board member.
The new mission is admittedly broad and vague.
“We are still feeling ourselves out,” Brown said.
But that’s by design. The foundation hopes to support a litany of health care initiatives in coming years.
“We are still in an evolution, certainly,” Williams said. “The big question for our donors is ‘what projects and initiatives are you going to fund?’”
That’s yet to be determined and will be based in part on community feedback. The foundation will use a two-fold approach to vet and pick projects. One will be mini-grants of $5,000 to support health initiatives by various community organizations.
“I think the grants will give us an opportunity to gauge the needs in Haywood County,” Williams said.
The foundation will also fund and carry out its own signature projects. Its major undertaking for the coming year will be chosen next month. As the first effort undertaken by the new foundation, it will be a litmus test of sorts — can it successfully rally community support, raise funds and implement a project outside the boundaries of the hospital?
The foundation won’t completely sever its ties with the hospital, and plans to partner and collaborate with Duke LifePoint on joint initiatives in the community.
The foundation can also continue programs that support patients themselves, such as its ongoing initiative to pay for mammograms for women who otherwise couldn’t afford them. And it can continue to support end-of-life care for patients at The Homestead Hospice house. For example, the foundation is paying a music therapist to visit with hospice patients. That helps patients directly rather than benefiting Duke LifePoint.
The foundation had a narrow window to act once it learned the hospital would be sold to a for-profit entity and render its historic purpose moot.
Rebranding its mission wasn’t the only matter at hand. The foundation has to spend down money earmarked for particular projects within the hospital before the sale went through.
Initially, the window was only about six months. Construction had to move swiftly to complete the biggest outstanding project on the books: a remodel of the hospital’s labor and delivery wing and of the progressive care unit (a level of care below intensive care, but above standard inpatient care.)
Those used up about $400,000 in the bank. Another $200,000 was spent on other loose ends, including outpatient surgery equipment, nursing scholarships, drug safes and mammograms for women who couldn’t otherwise afford them.
Still, the foundation still had a sizable pot left — more than $1 million — when the hospital sale went through.
“We can no longer legally do what the money was initially raised for, so what do you do when your purpose is frustrated?” asked Brown, an attorney by trade and training. “Can we spend this money in a fashion that was what the donor initially wanted?”
The foundation is sending letters to as many donors as it can identify from recent years to inform them of the change, however. So far, no donors are recalling past donations.
Logistically, it would be hard to figure out whose donations were the ones left over in the bank. The foundation didn’t attach trackers to every dollar that came in because there was no need.
“We never foresaw a situation where we would have to give money back,” Brown said.
So from an accounting perspective, tracing the roughly $1 million left in the foundation’s account back to original donors would be almost impossible. So the foundation is doing the only thing it can do, which is spend the money on other health care-related undertakings.
And that’s ultimately a positive for the community, foundation board members said.
“This is a huge opportunity for the citizens of Haywood County. Now we can do more,” Williams said.
A future full of potential?
The newly revamped Haywood Healthcare Foundation could play a valuable role in coming years when proceeds from the sale of Haywood Regional Medical Center are eventually unlocked.
The hospital sold to Duke LifePoint for $26 million, but quite a bit of that amount was deducted to pay off outstanding debt and bills. The remainder will be held in escrow until the risk of lingering liabilities has passed. Whatever’s left at that point — likely in the $15 million range, give or take a few million — will come to the county.
That’s a few years away, but discussions are already playing out behind the scenes on how to safeguard the money when it comes down the pike. County commissioners have indicated they want to put the principle in a lockbox and only draw on the interest each year, which would be earmarked for health care initiatives.
The new Healthcare Foundation could be a vehicle to carry out those health care initiatives in partnership with the county.
“I think the county is certainly amenable to some sort of partnership with the foundation,” said Haywood County Commissioner Mark Swanger.
The county will have earmarked funds to spend on healthcare initiatives, which is exactly the mission of the foundation. Both are exploring how they could join forces, instead of duplicating efforts.
“It would be desirable to have one foundation to augment the health needs of Haywood. We will move forward in a measured way and try to accommodate the best interests of Haywood County,” Swanger said.
“Haywood Healthcare Foundation stands ready to work with the Board of Commissioners in any way to achieve our mission and the county’s support of a healthy Haywood County,” said Gavin Brown, treasurer of the Haywood Healthcare Foundation and mayor of Waynesville.
A new image for a new mission
The Haywood Healthcare Foundation, formerly known as the hospital foundation, has launched a new mission following the sale of the Haywood Regional Medical Center. Now owned by a for-profit company, the hospital can no longer accept philanthropic support.
The Haywood Healthcare Foundation will continue to carry the torch, however, by supporting a broad spectrum of unmet health care needs in the community. The Healthcare Foundation’s new logo features a compass and symbolizes a “strong and stable center with energy moving outward into the community, representing our multi-faceted means of supporting healthcare in our county,” according to Foundation Chair Ginger Lang.
The logo and new website were designed by Melanie Williams, graphic designer and owner of Pixels In My Pocket; Susanna Barbee, content writer with Pixels In My Pocket and Lorelei Garnes, owner of WNC Social Media Buzz.