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Sunday, May 22, 2022


Some would consider it a nice problem to have: How to dispense of $3 billion.

The California Endowment, the state’s largest health-oriented philanthropy, has been doing it in bits and pieces very small bits and pieces sometimes just running into the six figures.

The five largest grants handed out by the endowment in Los Angeles County are all less than $5 million. The foundation has given out a total of $44 million to 130 organizations in Los Angeles County an average of around $338,000 per organization. And the groups getting money, such as the California Black Women’s Health Project and Homeless Health Care Los Angeles, tend to be very narrowly focused.

“We decided early on that we were interested in using the resources of the foundation by putting money down in under-served communities,” said endowment CEO E. Lewis Reid. “Unlike some very large foundations that give large grants to large institutions, we wanted to giver smaller grants to community-based organizations.”

A $5 million grant to the National Health Law Program Inc. in Los Angeles, for example, went to set up a help line for low-income people in six counties, including Los Angeles, Orange and San Diego. Consumers can call with a variety of questions such as “How do I apply for Medi-Cal?” and receive a response.

The $5 million distributed to the Public Health Foundation Enterprises Inc. in City of Industry will be allocated over five years for a program to quell violent tendencies in kids by getting them involved in community and leadership activities.

Three years ago, the endowment was created when Blue Cross of California converted from non-profit status to a for-profit health maintenance organization. After the controversial conversion, state law required the company to use the assets built up as a non-profit for “health-related” charitable purposes in California.

The foundation is overseen by the state Attorney General’s Office and is independent of Blue Cross.

Grants are determined by the endowment after the organizations complete an extensive application process. The endowment hosts workshops throughout the state to assist grassroots organizations in preparing a detailed letter of intent, a budget, tax returns and a risk analysis of their proposed projects.

Teams of endowment staff members then go over the applications. The entire process can take from a few days to a few months, depending on the intricacy of the proposal.

The endowment has determined four broad categories it is looking to fund: access to health care for the uninsured, health and well-being initiatives, community health innovations, and multicultural health.

Santa Monica’s Liberty Hills Foundation received $1.7 million to educate communities about environmental hazards in their neighborhoods.

“We worked to help folks who woke up one morning in Huntington Park and found this huge concrete dust pile they called it ‘La Montana’ sitting in an empty lot across from their school,” said Executive Director Torie Osborn. “Suddenly their kids start coughing, getting asthma, getting sick. It took this working-class Latino neighborhood two years to get their own city council to believe something was happening, but the pile has been removed.”

What isn’t on the list are large-scale projects, such as opening a hospital in an under-serviced community.

“We’re not the government even with the amount of money we have we can’t seriously think about funding major efforts in direct care,” Reid said. “We have to think about what niches our money could be well spent to improve public health.”

While most health care observers compliment the job the endowment has done, some have been critical of what’s perceived as a scattershot approach.

“Where are they?” asked Betsy Imholz, spokeswoman for the Consumer’s Union in San Francisco. “Things don’t seem to be progressing. They’re an incredible resource and I don’t see what’s hanging them up. I only wish the best for the new leadership there because the people of California need the endowment’s help.”

In the past 10 months the endowment has doubled the size of its staff, doubled the number of coordinators it has in the community to educate organizations about the availability of these grants, and established an online guide to the application process.

“The foundation is going to be here for a long time,” Reid said. “We don’t want to have a narrowly defined purpose that’s relevant in the year 2000 and becomes irrelevant in the year 2050.”

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