Health Forward Foundation’s leadership, advocacy, and resources transform communities so everyone has an opportunity for better health. The following are some of Health Forward’s most notable efforts in 2019.
After six years of service, Dr. Bridget McCandless announced her retirement as Health Forward President and CEO. Though she made her announcement in January, she stayed through October 2019 to ensure a smooth leadership transition. Upon her departure, CFO Rick Zimmer served as interim CEO.
After Dr. McCandless’ announcement, the board formed a search committee, developed a request for proposal to hire a search firm, created a leadership profile, screened applicants, interviewed candidates, and hired life-long Kansas Citian Qiana Thomason.
We thank Dr. McCandless for her tireless dedication and passion for our communities. We were pleased with this process and hiring for several reasons. First, the search committee was uniquely inclusive in committee membership. Board members, Community Advisory Committee members, and Health Forward associates were all represented on the search committee. Second, the interview process was thorough and broad; the final slate of candidates included qualified individuals locally, regionally, and nationally. Third, we highly approve that the search committee made the unprecedented move to introduce the final three candidates to staff and the Community Advisory Committee. Inclusion is an important tenant for Health Forward, and this step demonstrated that the organization lives its values both inside and outside its office walls.
Finally, we support the decision to hire Qiana Thomason. She knows the barriers to health and strengths of the Kansas City community. Her strong presence and leadership will further the mission to help those most in need in our communities.
Missouri Medicaid Expansion
Health Forward joined a coalition of patients, medical professionals, business leaders, and other organizations to launch a signature-gathering campaign aimed at including Missouri Medicaid expansion on the ballot.
We support this crucial initiative that will bring coverage to many in our communities. Our Community Advisory Committee members were among the first to sign the petition. We know that Health Forward played a critical leadership role in promoting and implementing the work on this initiative. Convening a diverse group of stakeholders who may not otherwise have reason to meet is a daunting task. Over the years, Health Forward has cultivated a high level of community trust, and it was this trust, along with Dr. McCandless’s leadership, that pulled key stakeholders together. The success of this initiative is imperative to our communities. Medicaid expansion will bring more than a billion tax dollars to Missouri that will keep rural hospitals open, boost the state’s economy, and deliver much-needed health care to people with lower-paying jobs and no health insurance benefits.
We applaud the early planning to collect signatures beginning in late 2019. Without that additional time, the pandemic of 2020 would have prevented collecting the necessary support. We are thrilled that the coalition gathered the required number of signatures. We remain hopeful that Missouri voters will approve Medicaid expansion.
Health Forward was one of the Kansas City-area foundations that established the Metro Kansas City Census Equity Fund. This fund supported grants that provided localized education and outreach efforts aimed especially at hard-to-count populations that have been historically underrepresented in the census. The fund supported regional and statewide grants in both Missouri and Kansas.
The Community Advisory Committee eagerly supports this joint effort. Many of our community members fall within the hard-to-count populations specifically targeted by this fund. As one of the main funders and partners, Health Forward fostered key partnerships to support census education and outreach. The count has historically missed disproportionate numbers of people of color, immigrants, young children, older adults, and multi-generational and low-income households. Census data analysis influences decisions about locations of new roads, schools, hospitals, emergency services, and businesses. Without representation in that data, disparities across race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, are further exacerbated. As staunch supporters of our communities, we appreciate Health Forward’s leadership and resources to ensure that all are counted.
While equity has always been inherent to Health Forward’s mission and values, governance and staff decided to further define what equity means to the organization and establish a common vision through the establishment of an Ad Hoc Equity Committee.This board committee includes board members, staff representatives, and members of the Community Advisory Committee. Through this lens of inclusion, equity will be evaluated across all levels of the organization. The journey is just beginning for this committee, which will have its first meeting in 2020 to create goals and a formal purpose, and make recommendations for educational opportunities.
It is important to the Community Advisory Committee that health equity is clearly defined and understood by not only our board and staff, but our community as well. Health Forward must first develop a common definition of equity and how the organization will translate that vision into its work. This daunting but necessary work will involve analyzing the culture across all levels of the organization. By bringing in representatives from the staff and the Community Advisory Committee, the board has sent a clear message that this is a collaborative effort, not a top-down approach. We encourage the concentrated effort to continually evaluate Health Forward’s approach to its work.
Grants Management System Debut
In March 2019, Health Forward debuted a new grants management system, which is the database for all Health Forward funding. The rollout required minor modifications to the funding schedule. Monthly funding opportunities began in March instead of January, and the board held special meetings outside their normal schedule in order to accommodate a shortened, decision-making time frame. Through all of these changes, grantmaking totals for 2019 were not impacted.
Health Forward did an exemplary job of communicating with applicants. Five months before implementation, Health Forward began alerting applicants to the upcoming transition and how it would impact funding. Changing technological systems is always messy and requires nimble responses to glitches. We commend the staff for their planning, communications, prompt attention to issues, and quick, makeshift solutions while troubleshooting system errors. The rollout was not flawless but Health Forward’s preparations and responsiveness were. We also appreciate that Health Forward put the needs of the community first and continued to issue grants during the technology rollout.
New Grant Opportunity
2019 brought Health Forward’s first funding opportunity focused exclusively on advocacy. The Policy and Civic Engagement team spent much of the year working out logistics and preparing a request for proposals. In late summer, the Policy and Civic Engagement Fund was officially announced as a project through Health Forward’s special initiatives budget. The fund focused on advocacy projects that addressed grassroots organizing, health care access, and housing policy. Health Forward awarded 15 grants totaling $1 million in January 2020.
Advocacy is important. We see time and again that sweeping policy changes can positively impact a large swath of the population. Advocacy has always been an important component of Health Forward’s work, but we have proudly watched an increased emphasis on advocacy work throughout the years. Issuing policy-specific grants is another step in Health Forward’s evolution of advocacy support.
In 2019, Health Forwarded awarded a total of $20.9 million through 200 grants and special initiatives.
2019 Grant Distribution
*Find a more detailed grantmaking breakdown in Health Forward’s annual report.
For the last 15 years, Health Forward has issued more than $300 million in the areas of healthy communities, mental health, and safety net. Funded partners in the region depend on this consistent funding for their services to those most in need. As community representatives, we hear grantees in our communities express appreciation for Health Forward’s transparency and staff support in delivering funding to areas of need. It speaks volumes that organizations in our community speak more about staff support than the actual funding amount. We also note that the ease of the grantmaking process helps make the funding even more effective.
Health Forward experienced a healthy investment performance in 2019 with a 14.9 percent return on a year-end investment value of $802 million. Net income from investments totaled $102 million with net assets increasing by $75 million for the year. The prior year’s net asset loss of $56 million was completely recovered during 2019. The current asset allocation continues to balance risk and return in an efficient manner.
Each year, Health Forward abides by operational spending guidelines of not exceeding 20 percent of the total budget. In 2019, 83 percent of Health Forward’s total spending budget went back to the community in program-related expenditures and 17 percent funded internal operating costs.
Finally, in accordance with Health Forward policy, every five years the foundation is required to issue a request for proposals to ensure that its professional contractors remain competitive in cost and services. For the first time since inception, Health Forward selected a new finance auditor, RubinBrown, to serve in this capacity for the next five years.View 2019 Financials
We appreciate the close attention to investments. Health Forward’s resources are the crux of its ability to support thousands of organizations since inception. Over the years we’ve witnessed ups and downs in the market, and the finance staff and investment committee have diligently continued to monitor and care for the investment portfolio. Their ability to weather the unpredictable markets is an invaluable benefit to our communities.