The Rapides Foundation celebrates 25th anniversary

Under the guidance of its Board of Trustees and Chief Executive Officer, The Rapides Foundation has spent a quarter of a century fulfilling its mission of improving the health status of Central Louisiana in its dual role as part owner of Rapides Regional Medical Center and as a leading health grantmaker in the region.

The Foundation celebrates its anniversary on September 1, the day in 1994 that a joint venture partnership between the hospital and HCA (formerly Columbia/HCA) created a $140 million endowment to establish the Foundation. The partnership extended the hospital’s ability to provide quality healthcare in a changing environment and created a wellspring of Foundation resources dedicated to improving the health of Central Louisiana residents.

Today, the Foundation has current assets of $295 million, has disbursed more than $223 million in grants, and continues to have a 26% ownership stake in the healthcare system that resulted.

“The Rapides Foundation is a unique organization that continues its legacy as a healthcare provider through continued ownership in Rapides Healthcare System and involvement in its success, but also as a significant grantmaker in Central Louisiana,” said Joe Rosier, who has led the Foundation as CEO and President from the beginning.

“Through both of those avenues we pursue our mission of improving health status to ensure that there is quality healthcare, there’s access to that care, and other drivers of health are also addressed through our philanthropy. We do that in a very intentional way that these resources can make a difference in Central Louisiana,” he said. “While our work has evolved through the past 25 years, our commitment to our mission remains steadfast.”

The Foundation stems from a legacy of healthcare and community service that began in 1903 when a group of six physicians formed the 20-bed Alexandria Sanitarium at the corner of Second and Lee streets. The Louisiana Baptist Convention acquired the sanitarium in 1917 and operated it as the Baptist Hospital until 1970 when it was turned over to the community as Rapides General Hospital.

By the hospital’s 90th anniversary in 1993, challenges to its long-term ability to provide quality healthcare were recognized by the hospital’s trustees. The board worked with a consultant to determine strategic options for the future, pursued those options and eventually began discussions with HCA, which led to the joint venture partnership that created The Rapides Foundation.

In the years following the closing of the joint venture, The Rapides Foundation began to define itself as a grantmaker, while also maintaining active involvement in governance of the hospital.

As 26% owner, the Foundation provides oversight to the community benefit delivered by Rapides Regional Medical Center.

“One of the things we learned was that as a continuing partner in the hospital with Columbia HCA, we couldn’t be a passive owner. We had to assert our tax exempt interest. And so that really manifests itself in community benefit,” Rosier said. “We have always and until now had a strong oversight of the community benefit that the hospital provides. It’s really the essence of why our board chose to stay in and retain a part of the hospital.”

Early in its 25-year history, the Foundation’s Board of Trustees also recognized the need for a structured, strategic and deliberate way to spend its limited resources in order to have the biggest impact. In its research, the Foundation realized it would best impact health by focusing on factors that represent the root determinants of mortality and disability.

“I think the largest movement we made in advancing our grantmaking was when we learned and became aware of the impact of behavioral and social determinants on health status. Certainly having access to healthcare is critical, but the larger driver on premature death or illness are behaviors,” Rosier said.

Today, the Foundation’s grantmaking efforts focus on three interconnected priority areas: Healthy People, to improve access to healthcare and promote healthy behaviors; Education, to increase the level of educational attainment and achievement as the primary path to improved economic, social and health status; and Healthy Communities, to improve economic opportunity and family income, and enhance civic and community opportunities for more effective leaders and organizations.

In addition, some of the Foundation’s work is handled through its subsidiaries, The Orchard Foundation and Cenla Medication Access Program, and its operating program, Community Development Works.

The Foundation’s service area consists of Allen, Avoyelles, Catahoula, Grant, LaSalle, Natchitoches, Rapides, Winn and Vernon parishes. Close to 80 individuals from throughout the service area have served as members of the Board of Trustees since 1994. The board shapes and adjusts strategic plans, basing their decisions on expert advice, data from periodic Community Health Needs Assessments, issue-specific research and knowledge, and current best practices.

“Understanding the complexity and interconnectedness of the many factors that drive health, we aim to make decisions that are relevant to the needs of today and also strive to make decisions that favorably impact the anticipated needs of the future,” 2019 Board Chairman Anna Moreau said. “We are also committed to looking at new data and knowledge regularly to ensure we are on the right track.”

As the Foundation moves into its next quarter century, it will continue its reliance on planning, implementation and critical, ongoing examination of its work, all with the goal of working toward a healthier Central Louisiana.

“We are excited about the future for Central Louisiana, and we pledge that The Rapides Foundation is dedicated to researching the critical issues – to find solutions for positively impacting the health status of our communities,” Rosier said. “By working together, we believe Cenla will be a healthier place to live and work.”