A thoughtful reflection on hospital philanthropy
I feel the need to offer a historical view of the present controversy over Sonoma Valley Hospital (SVH), the Health Care District and the Hospital Foundation. I served as an elected member of the hospital board of directors and was chair of the board.
I also served as chair of the Joint Powers Authority (JPA), which was a cooperative effort of five district hospitals-Sonoma, Sebastopol, Healdsburg, Mendocino and Garberville.
I was part of the recruitment effort for the last three hospital CEOs and, as a practicing family physician and psychiatrist for the past 29 years, I have been intimately involved in hospital and health care politics in Sonoma.
Philanthropy, through the efforts of the Hospital Foundation and its founder and leader, Carolyn Stone, was very helpful to the hospital in its early days, raising considerable private funds, often very generously out of Mrs. and Mr. Stone’s own pockets.
As the hospital grew, however, and finances became tighter, the health care environment changed. Competition between hospitals increased, insurance companies squeezed, and costs soared. Public, community hospitals like ours, have been under the gun.
Former CEO Bob Kowal and the board of directors realized that philanthropic efforts needed to be increased, as existing donations were limited. Consequently, Mr. Kowal created a new position and hired Angus Cochran as director of philanthropy. That effort got lost in the disastrous “Measure C” expansion and land acquisition program.
Successor CEO, Carl Gerlach, also recognized the need to expand philanthropic funding. A group of about 25 women approached SVH to raise funds for a women’s center, but that group and the Foundation could not resolve their differences.
As a result, that group directed its efforts elsewhere – a loss for the hospital. Carl Gerlach then asked me, as SVH board chair, to talk with the foundation leadership to resolve conflicts and spark change in the philanthropic process. Several potentially large donors had expressed reluctance to donate until change could be effected.
As chair of the JPA, I compared SVH Foundation fundraising with the other four district hospitals. Healdsburg, with a much poorer district due to a smaller tax base, had raised two-to-three times as much money for a capital campaign. Something wasn’t working as well in Sonoma.
Healdsburg officials suggested we make changes or create a new foundation to expand revenues.
Bill Boerum, who succeeded me as SVH board chair, even proposed such a new foundation, but the SVH board did not adopt it.
I met with Mrs. Stone and the Hospital Foundation board members. We had cordial discussions, and several of us tried to generate a graceful and respectful transition. However, we failed to get the foundation leadership to recognize the need for change.
The hospital’s philanthropic vision and effectiveness must grow with the demands of the times.
This necessitated a change in the Hospital Foundation. I know from personal experience, as well as from my professional work, that change is often painful and difficult. Those who create a new effort or organization are not always best suited to be ongoing administrators.
After several years and the tentative efforts of two previous CEOs, current CEO Kelly Mather and the present SVH board of directors have finally taken decisive and effective action to improve philanthropic practices. The recent flow of private funding reflects the appropriateness of their actions.
Let’s put to rest the recriminations, unite in appreciating the generosity of the Stones and past foundation members, and move into a more productive future.