Helmsley Giving Big to Make Heart Attacks Less Deadly in Rural America

There’s no doubt about it: the Helmsley Charitable Trust is making rural access to healthcare a big priority. The sudden acceleration of the program in 2010 definitely turned some heads—it went from giving away a handful of grants each year to handing out over 40 grants (and over $60 million) in one year alone. These days, Helmsley’s Rural Healthcare Program has established itself as a major part of the foundation’s overall profile. And Helmsley’s partnership with the American Heart Association, called Mission: Lifeline, is one of the program’s largest funded initiatives.

The American Heart Association conceived of the project in 2007, and got a serious boost in 2010 when Helmsley latched on to the initiative and made its first multi-million dollar pledge: $8.4 million over three years to fund Mission: Lifeline’s South Dakota program. Since then, Helmsley has invested heavily in Lifeline’s state-run projects in North Dakota, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, and Wyoming. The project’s goal is a significant reduction in the amount of time it takes to get advanced lifesaving care to a patient experiencing an ST-elevated myocardial infarction, or STEMI.

It makes lots of sense that Helmsley is focused on STEMIs, which are among the most life-threatening forms of heart attack: Blood supply is completely obstructed, and the heart muscle dies off rapidly as a result. Studies estimate that two-thirds of STEMI sufferers don’t receive adequate emergency care, and the numbers are even more troubling in rural areas.

All this dovetails nicely with the Helmsley Charitable Trust’s foundation goals and focus: It likes funding projects in the upper Midwest, and it loves technology-based approaches to health problems. Improving STEMI patients’ outcomes by outfitting ambulances with electrocardiograms—at $25,000 a pop—so the emergency care team can communicate a patient’s condition directly to the hospital upon arrival is precisely the sort of thing Helmsley wants to put its name and its money behind. And it shows: In its three years of partnering with the American Heart Association, Helmsley has made multiple multimillion-dollar gifts to different branches of Mission: Lifeline. In March, 2013 it was $8.5 million to establish the program in Minnesota. So far this year, Helmsley has made two sizeable gifts to the program: $4.1 million for Nebraska in January, and $4.6 million for Montana in February.  

Though Helmsley is known for its health grantmaking in the upper Midwest, it's clearly on a roll here. It will be interesting to see how far their funding of Mission: Lifeline carries them.