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The California Endowment: A Parent Organization

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The California Endowment: A Parent Organization

Linda My Huynh

Student ID Number: 49464640

Public Health 2

Dr. Zuzana Bic

Spring 2015


In 1966, California’s not-for-profit Blue Cross of California insurance plan converted to a for-profit status, leaving at least 3 billion dollars in community assets to be re-invested – the California Endowment was thus created as a reserve for these funds. However, the big question was: where would this money be best invested and whom should benefit from these funds?

1. Preliminary Issues

Shortly after the formation of the California Endowment, an diverse eighteen-person board of directors was assembled, each chosen based on their leadership in civic engagement and community involvement (Wilton, 2000). A simple decision was quickly agreed upon: since the remaining assets were a direct result of loyal community investment in Blue Cross, it would only be logical that the money should be returned to the public.

In addition to this founding principle, the board of directors also identified key preliminary issues that would shape the Endowment’s mission statement for years to come. They reasoned that if the assets in the California Endowment were used to help the state’s struggling safety net hospitals and clinics, the costs of uncompensated healthcare would easily overwhelm the resources available for further funding; such investments would be rendered ineffective in the long term.

2. Present Situation

Within the context of the twentieth century, healthcare charities were gaining more momentum. On the other hand, discretionary funding for community and public health innovations were dragging far behind (Wilton 2000). Local initiatives remained isolated and detached; any source of private funding for public health was rare (Potapchuk, 2001).

Drawing from the present situation and the aforementioned preliminary issues, the California Endowment’s Board of Directors concluded that its funding should move beyond simple charity work – the investments made should catalyze some sort of positive change in the community that it was returned to. Eventually, the board of directors simply decided to create grants to encourage local communities to establish more healthcare clinics, thereby increasing low-income community access to healthcare.

3. Issue Identification

        After ten years of aforementioned grant-making, the California Endowment named Dr. Ross the chief executive officer in 2001. While Dr. Ross’ background was that of a medical doctor, he possessed a long history of public health activism and leadership. Prior to his appointment, for example, Dr. Ross served as director of the Health and Human Services Agency for the County of San Diego, and the Commissioner of Public Health for the City of Philadelphia (The California Endowment).

Utilizing a multidisciplinary approach, Dr. Ross drew from his experiences to identify key systemic issues that were preventing Californians equal access to healthcare. These institutionalized differences, he claimed, were the real reason as to why The California Endowment grants were not significantly improving the overall health of their communities:

 “Poverty, racism and hopelessness: it is these factors that feed the heavy burden of disease in low-income communities…conditions [that are] largely preventable. We have decided to stop digging our feet and jump into the pool on the matter of these social determinants of health,” (Potapchuk, 2001).

Drawing from these principles, Dr. Ross reformed The California Endowment and shifted their focus to address the following issues: (1) uninsured school-age children, (2) rampant childhood obesity (Brownwell, 2005), (3) little to no health services for farm workers and/or ex-offenders and (4) a waning population of culturally-competent health care professionals.

4. Analysis

        Within the next decade, the California Endowment would expand its repertoire to include numerous grants and programs available to fund community projects who targeted the four aforementioned deficits. The analysis of a small sample of such programs is as follows:

(1) In 2000, The California Endowment funded a Santa Clara County coalition in their proposition to guarantee health insurance coverage to every child in the county. As a direct result, many other counties in the state followed their lead that. The ripple effect eventually reached the California State Legislature in 2006, when universal health insurance coverage was enacted for all children. Today, of California’s 63 counties, 18 have made all children eligible for health insurance coverage.

(2) Childhood obesity was The Endowment’s next target: without change, at least one in every three African-American or Hispanic child born would develop diabetes (Brownwell 2005). In partnership with Healthy Eating, Active Communities, the California Endowment facilitated the introduction of fresh fruits and vegetables and safe play areas to communities throughout California. The $26 million multi-year grant championed all these changes, eventually leading governor Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign a law to eliminate all junk food and soda from public schools.



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