Greenville Health System plans to make $80 million available for grants to improve health in Greenville County.
The new initiative, which hasn’t yet been named, will distribute $4 million in grants each year for 20 years. Its launching date has not been determined, but work is underway, says Lisa Stevens, GHS board chair.
Stevens and other board members are working on the process now. They plan to create policies for accepting grants and present these to the GHS board before grant proposal requests can begin. Right now, board members are learning more about philanthropy organizations and how to set up a granting process, Stevens says.
“What’s exciting about it is we think this will be the second-largest single gift into the community on an annual basis, following the United Way,” Stevens says.
“We have an opportunity to get ahead of the curve,” she says. “When you start doing research and education initiatives, you can change the health of people in the community.”
The first new grants likely will focus on ways to help people adopt better habits in nutrition and exercise, says Dr. Jerry Youkey, executive vice president of medical and academic affairs at GHS.
“We know from data that improvements in nutrition and exercise give you more stamina and energy, and it actually affects how well you recover from illnesses,” Youkey says.
An example of the type of program the grant money could fund is the Swamp Rabbit Trail, Youkey says.
“When GHS president Mike Riordan got here 10 years ago, GHS put $1 million over 10 years to get the trail started,” Youkey says. “Since then, it’s turned into a network of biking and running and riding trails across the Upstate.”
The trail has had a great economic impact in the county, but it’s also had a significant impact on the community’s health. GHS’ $80 million gift to Greenville will provide more opportunities, like the trail, to improve public health, Youkey says.
The new fund will be entirely separate from other ways that GHS contributes to the community, Stevens says.
GHS already contributes millions of dollars each year to the Greenville community through charity care, health fairs, programs for children, government-sponsored health care services and other support. This new community health fund will be administered independently from hospital operations, with $80 million that can only be used for the grants.
The GHS board and leadership decided to establish the new fund as a way to thank the Greenville community for the bond money provided in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s to expand the health system. Taxpayers made the last bond payment in the 1990s. The total amount of the bonds was around $80 million, Stevens says.
“If you go back and study the numbers, it’s incredible the economic impact that building hospitals has had in Greenville,” Stevens says. “Our first hospital, the Greenville City Hospital, was a bunch of ladies who got together and decided we needed a hospital.”
GHS is planning to operationalize a new private, not-for-profit, multiregional system with two new boards. The existing GHS will remain a public entity that leases its facilities to one of the new entities. The change is being reviewed by the South Carolina Supreme Court. Also, nine of 22 members of Greenville County legislative delegation have asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the change and expansion plans.