The Kansas Health Foundation can trace its roots back to the 1985 sale of Wesley Medical Center.
At the time, Wesley was a nonprofit hospital associated with the United Methodist Church. Facing many changes in the health care industry, hospital and community leaders helped shape a vision: The hospital’s resources could be used to prevent disease instead of waiting to treat it once it occurs. This led to Wesley being sold to the for-profit Hospital Corporation of America (HCA).
The sale’s profits went to two organizations focused on improving health in the state: the United Methodist Health Ministry Fund and the Wesley Medical Endowment Foundation (now the Kansas Health Foundation).
With a $200 million endowment and a focus on improving the health of all Kansans, our Foundation set out to make a difference across the state.
The early years
The large endowment from Wesley’s sale earned the Kansas Health Foundation a spot on the list of the 40 largest grant-making foundations in the country, and it ranked as one of the top 10 U.S. health-care foundations at that time.
From the beginning, the Kansas Health Foundation endeavored to make a long-term impact on our state’s health. Some of our first grants went to establish Kansas LEAN (Low-Fat Eating for America Now), a statewide program aimed at reducing fat in Kansans’ diets, and the Breast Cancer Detection Project at the University of Kansas School of Medicine in Wichita.
In 1988, the Kansas Health Foundation held town-hall style meetings in 40 communities across Kansas. That feedback, as well as subsequent listening tours, influenced our strategic plan for many years. Instead of funding medical research, our Foundation adopted a “back to the basics” plan, developing and supporting major initiatives in areas including public health, leadership and health policy.
In the 1990s, favorable investment climates allowed our Foundation’s asset base to flourish. Our grantmaking expanded accordingly, averaging about $15 million annually.
With those additional resources, our Foundation’s work spread more broadly across the state as we built interlocking programs designed to touch many lives. The Kansas Health Foundation continued to cultivate relationships with hundreds of organizations, agencies and community leaders. Those partnerships remain strong today.
Our commitment to strengthening Kansas’ public health system grew in this decade. The Kansas Health Foundation helped to establish or support Masters in Public Health programs at the state’s largest universities, and we funded many projects to raise awareness about the importance of public health. Our Foundation also provided more than $15 million for a project at the University of Kansas School of Medicine that aimed to increase the number of primary care physicians in Kansas and improve the distribution of health care services.
Two of our programs that continue to bear much fruit across the state – the Kansas Community Leadership Initiative (KCLI) and the Giving Resources to Our World (GROW) Healthy Kansas Initiative – were planted in the 1990s. KCLI helped hundreds of Kansans in more than 40 communities to learn a new approach to leadership. Armed with those new skills, these leaders have made their towns better and healthier places to live. Now in its second decade, GROW is a very successful and ongoing program to support and build community foundations across our state. We also debuted our Leadership Fellows program as well as numerous projects focused on the health and well-being of Kansas children.
Over the past 10 years, the Kansas Health Foundation has expanded our strategic funding priorities and strengthened two organizations we founded – the Kansas Health Institute and the Kansas Leadership Center – that further our goals in the areas of leadership and public policy.
Foundation resources were also devoted to the issue of tobacco control, including our Emmy-award winning Let’s Take It Outside campaign that encouraged adults not to expose children to cigarette smoke. Our work with community foundations blossomed in this decade, and those foundations have re-granted $33 million to local nonprofits and projects. In addition, the Kansas Health Foundation feels proud of our strides toward improving the healthy behaviors of Kansans and our successful efforts to expand Kansans’ access to health care.
Building on our history and focus on prevention, the Kansas Health Foundation is well positioned to continue working toward improving the health of all Kansans. With an asset base of approximately $450 million, the Foundation continues to expand our network of partners, and as always, we have a deeply dedicated board, staff and team of advisers.
Our Foundation owes a debt of gratitude to thousands of Kansans: the people who blazed the trail to make the Kansas Health Foundation a reality, and all those who have partnered with us through the years to make Kansas a healthier place to live. Today, the Kansas Health Foundation stands on the bedrock created by their hard work. We could never have come this far without all of them.
The Board and staff of the Kansas Health Foundation will continue to reach for our goals with drive and determination. We remain devoted to our mission of improving the health of all Kansans. Our Foundation feels privileged to have this opportunity and commitment to serve Kansas, and we seek to be a significant partner in Kansas for generations to come.