Health Trust History

Following the sale of the Michael Reese Hospital and Medical Center, and the Michael Reese Health Plan to Humana in 1991, the Michael Reese Health Trust was established with funds from the legacy of foundations that were formerly part of the Hospital and Health plan (Michael Reese Hospital Foundation, Michael Reese Second Century Foundation, and Michael Reese Health Plan Foundation).  The Health Trust began operating as a private, independent “conversion” foundation in late 1995, under the direction of its founding president, Dorothy H. Gardner.

Grant support was to be focused on improving the health of those most vulnerable; in particular, the underserved, children and youth, people with disabilities, the elderly, the uninsured and immigrants.

Guided by the spirit and legacy of the original hospital, in consultation with civic and organizational leaders, Trustees adopted a mission statement, developed grantmaking guidelines, and initiated funding in 1997.  Grant support was to be focused on improving the health of those most vulnerable; in particular, the underserved, children and youth, people with disabilities, the elderly, the uninsured and immigrants.  And, given the Jewish heritage of the hospital, the Health Trust would focus a portion of its funding on advancing the health and wellbeing of vulnerable Jewish populations.

In 1999, in order to understand and respond to the most critical health care needs facing these populations, the Trustees embarked on a year long health assessment.  Tapping the experience and expertise of a group of “leader-advisors” representing diverse organizations that provide assistance to Chicago’s disadvantaged populations, the Health Trust set about its work with three goals in mind:  1) to provide information on at-risk populations and their most critical health needs; 2) to guide the future direction in grantmaking; and 3) to leverage its ability to make a difference in the lives of vulnerable individuals and families.

Through this needs assessment, the foundation learned important lessons about sustaining innovation and leveraging the role and resources of the public sector. It became abundantly clear that achieving systemic change and quality within the health sector could not be achieved through philanthropy alone.  With access and quality as central goals, the Trustees recognized the importance of funding beyond direct services to include support for policy analysis, advocacy and organizational capacity building. With this in mind, in November of l999, the Health Trust developed a proactive agenda to compliment the on-going Responsive grant program.  The Proactive grant program is staff driven and seeks to fund programs that will inform policy and help catalyze action, collaborative funding and partnerships, both private and public.  The Responsive program continues to respond to requests submitted according to the Health Trust guidelines.  In many instances each grant program helps to inform the work of the other, and they generally have parity in total funding.

By the year 2000, the Responsive grant program included support for expanded insurance coverage as well as health and social service delivery.  In line with these priorities, the Proactive grant program implemented five multi-year projects to improve access, quality and support for several at-risk populations, including frail elderly, uninsured children, children who have experienced a catastrophic injury, and children with asthma.  New foundation practices were established.  

In addition, as a special initiative to honor the Centennial of the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, the Board of Trustees established the Fund for Innovation in Health at the Federation with an endowment of $5 million to support innovative health services developed and implemented by Federation agencies.

2005 marked the Health Trust’s tenth year of operation.  To assess its value and impact to date, The Board of Trustees decided the time was right for a "check-up," and embarked upon a Ten Year Assessment project conducted by the Center for Effective Philanthropy. A report was produced that included survey results from over 100 grantees, and interviews with key agencies and city leaders, state agency heads and policy makers, and local and national funding partners.  Much was learned from the process and work began to improve those areas that were found to be in need of change.  Also that year, under the auspices of the Proactive grant program, the first Health Care Issues Roundtable was convened.  This forum was created to give local health care leaders the chance to come together to listen, learn, explore ideas, and create new opportunities for leveraging Chicago's expertise and resources to improve the health care system.  Meetings are held quarterly and experts in several areas are invited to discuss a wide range of topics, ranging from strategies for better serving the uninsured, improving long-term care, implementing electronic medical records, and most recently, federal, state and provider perspectives and roles in health care reform.   

2007 brought a notable change in leadership at the Health Trust.  Dorothy Gardner retired and was succeeded by Gregory S. Gross, EdD.  Then, in 2008, in order to improve the quality and viability of various grantee programs, and to strengthen the infrastructure of organizations found to be doing outstanding work, a new component, Core grants, was added to the Responsive grant program.  By providing consistent funding over three years, these grants aim to reinforce program quality while building organizational capacity.

In terms of Proactive efforts, notable projects that have since gained national recognition, as well as made a significant impact on local and national policy, are Chicago Housing for Health Partnership (CHHP) and CeaseFire.  CHHP provides case management and supportive housing to chronically ill homeless individuals.  A study involving a randomized trial validating its impact in improving client outcomes while reducing costs was published in the May 6, 2009 Journal of the American Medical Association.  The other initiative supported CeaseFire, which approaches gang violence as a disease, and uses violence interrupters to help avoid continuing violence and deaths.  A U.S. Department of Justice funded study proving its impact was conducted by evaluators at Northwestern University.  Both initiatives emphasize the importance of foundations having multi-year relationships with projects that are demonstrations seeking to improve support systems.  Also, both exemplify how empirical data and strong evaluation provide solid practical findings with which to advance both new and existing interventions.  These and the other Proactive projects involve several key partners, policy development components, and rigorous design to help ensure a greater chance for long-term success.  Another such project that has developed into a nationally recognized program is the Chicago Center for Jewish Genetic Disorders.

Created in 1999 as one of the first Proactive projects, the Center celebrated its 10-year anniversary in October of 2009.  The Center continues to increase understanding of Jewish genetic disorders in the Chicago area and across the country.  It provides up to date information, and linkage to referrals, screenings, and genetic counseling.