What a Big State Health Foundation Has Been Up to Lately

 Mental health is one of EHF's top priorities.  

Mental health is one of EHF's top priorities.  

At the beginning of 2016, we made a few predictions about where the Episcopal Health Foundation’s funding would go over the course of the year. Based on recent trends and emerging priorities, our best guesses were uninsured Texans, capacity building for nonprofits, low-income urban neighborhoods, and the root causes of poor health.   

Related:  Where is the Episcopal Health Foundation’s Giving Headed in 2016?

We weren’t too far off with those predictions, but one thing we didn’t pay enough attention to was EHF’s role in health research. This funder has been releasing new reports at an impressive pace digging into the urgent health needs facing Texas. Research is at the core of this funder’s endeavors, and it has a research division that has put together interactive health data maps to consolidate information from a variety of public sources. It has also been conducting a comprehensive analysis of the Affordable Care Act in Texas, developing health policy reports analyzing the policies that affect health in the state, and community-based research with input from the public.

The most recent report that EHF released is called “Economic Impacts of Health Disparities.” The big takeaway is that health disparities for Blacks and Hispanics in Texas lead to higher health care spending, lost work productivity, and a dramatic number of years lost to premature death. According to findings cited in the report, “by 2050, the economic costs of health disparities in Texas are expected to increase by more than 80 percent to $3 billion in excess medical spending, $5.5 billion in lost productivity, and 690,000 lost life years at a value of $35 billion.”

Another recent EHF report showed that one million Texans gained health coverage because of the ACA. That report was published in the American Journal of Public Health and is quite timely right now, as Congress determines the fate of ObamacareOther reports have revealed the top concerns of local safety net clinics, the number of Texans that have stable health insurance, and recommendations for keeping key demographics insured.  

Research is fascinating and all, but what is EHF actually doing with all this information that it has been collecting and analyzing?

Well, a big goal, here, is to use research to shape its grantmaking, as well as to inform the work of its many collaborators in the health space. While the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation wrote the book on using data and analysis to drive health grantmaking, quite a few state-focused health funders—especially the bigger ones—have become much more sophisticated in this regard over recent years. With an endowment over $1 billion, EHF has the resources to emulate the research practices pioneered by RWJF at a state level. 

EHF is also on the cutting edge of healthcare philanthropy today by looking upstream at the determinants of poor health. As we've reported extensively, this is a central preoccupation of health funders right now, with attention focused on housing, food systems, transportation, parks, and other factors that affect people's health. 

Just recently, EHF announced $3.2 million in new grants aimed at groups trying to address the underlying reasons for poor health in Texas. These commitments brought EHF’s 2016 giving total to over $16.2 million across 122 grants. As we dive into 2017, we’re expecting to see even stronger EHF support for nonprofits looking beyond simply treating the symptoms of poor health in Texas. 

The foundation’s president and CEO, Elena Marks, said:

To address the health crisis in Texas, nonprofits and institutions have to work differently. Many of these organizations aren’t just providing treatment for diseases and sickness, they’re addressing the underlying causes that are making Texans unhealthy. It’s all about improving health, not just healthcare. We’re responding to the needs of these key organizations by providing resources that allow them to become stronger and better serve our communities.

A full list of new EHF grantees can be viewed in the press release, but the breakdown of grants played out like this:

  • Mental health and wellness: seven grants between $100,000 and $500,000
  • Access to health services: five grants between $40,000 and $250,000
  • Capacity building: two grants of $60,000 and $150,000
  • Comprehensive, community-based primary care: two grants of $225,000 and $300,000

So based on these figures, it also seems that mental health groups in particular have a lot to gain by connecting with this Texas funder. EHF’s recent reports have shown that mental health is a growing priority for safety net clinics in the region, really driving home the point that poor mental health is a root cause of physical symptoms and sickness. Here again, EHF is at the forefront of an important trend that we've been writing about at IP—namely, health funders playing catch-up on mental health, an area that has long been woefully under-resourced.  

In addition to the four categories of giving noted above, EHF will also focus grantmaking on early childhood brain development this year. Check out the funder’s grantmaking page for more updates on its new grant application and changes to the grant guidelines. 

The next EHF letter of inquiry deadline is February 1 for comprehensive community-based primary care and access to health services programs.