The Jewish Healthcare Foundation (JHF), the Pittsburgh grant-making organization whose mission is to improve health care outcomes not only locally but nationally, is marking 20 years of service.
Over its first two decades, the JHF, which was created out of the proceeds of the sale of the former Montefiore Hospital, has approved more than $100 million in grants, including $70 million in grants to the Jewish community.
Created in 1991 with the $75 million in proceeds from the sale of Montefiore to Presbyterian University Hospital, the JHF has made a difference in the standard of care to the indigent and underserved, supporting innovative medical practices.
“The original vision was to create something that builds on the assets that were sort of our inheritance from Montefiore, but doesn’t rely on them, and also to create an organization, the impact of which was larger than the sum of its grants, ” said JHF President and CEO Karen Wolk Feinstein.
Montefiore Hospital opened in 1908, addressing the needs of a Jewish community that was underserved by the area’s existing hospitals. Jews were not allowed treatment in most other area hospitals. Those that did accept Jewish patients did not provide kosher meals, and other services that Jews required. Moreover, Jewish physicians were rarely permitted to train or practice at those hopsitals.
Through the 1970s, Montefiore expanded both its physical facilities and range of services. It became the first hospital in Pittsburgh to set up community health clinics and offer home care, and the first area hospital to have black doctors on its staff. Eventually, it became a qualified teaching hospital, and known for pioneering research.
But by 1990, the future of Montefiore as a stand-alone hospital appeared grim. Like other faith-based hospitals, it struggled to compete with larger institutions, recruit doctors and provide the quality of care that had become its standard.
When the decision to sell the hospital was made, Jewish Pittsburgh wanted the proceeds used to continue Montefiore’s mission: responding to the health-related needs of elderly, underprivileged, indigent and underserved persons in both the Jewish and general community throughout western Pennsylvania.
Looking back over the last 20 years, Feinstein noted that the impact of the JHF on health reform has been “large, and probably not proportional to our size.”
“From its first year, we wanted to make something unique and distinctive that, in the best possible way, would surprise people with what you can do with an endowment,” she said. “We had higher aspirations than just grant-making.”
In its early years the JHF became a leader in addressing breast cancer, and funded the first Race for the Cure in Pittsburgh. It got involved early with the campaign to encourage women to get regular mammograms. It even funded a notebook, still used at the Hillman Cancer Center, facilitating a patient’s tracking of her type of cancer and treatment, according to JHF Chief Program Officer Nancy Zionts.
Expanding on women’s health, the JHF got involved in managing women’s cardiac care, Zionts added. It also invested $35 million to form the Jewish Association on Aging.
“We work to help create a vigorous life for seniors,” Feinstein said. “Women’s health and seniors are the hallmark of our foundation.”
JHF is also the fiscal agent for State HIV/AIDS funding in Pennsylvania.
On the international level JHF is working with Clalit, one of the major health systems in Israel, where they are making strides in improving the quality and safety of care, Feinstein said.
Additionally, the foundation has published many books, and Feinstein travels throughout the country and abroad speaking about health care advances.
It also played a role in developing the controversial Affordable Care Act, according to Feinstein, noting that JHF helped to “shape the quality and care provisions” of the law.
“Our commitment to health reform has been formidable,” she noted. “We are not where we should be as a nation in quality of care. It’s woeful, the number of regrettable instances that happen every day. It breaks our hearts. This is an area where we are constantly learning and growing.”
Locally, JHF continues to give a $900,000 block grant every year to the Jewish Federation of Greater Pittsburgh, which is distributed to agencies in the Jewish community that deal with health and social services.
The JHF was also one of the initial funders of both the Squirrel Hill Health Center and the Squirrel Hill Food Pantry, Zionts said.
Thus, the vision of Montefiore is perpetuated, according to Zionts.
“Two-thirds of all human services funding [of the Jewish community] is sourced to the JHF, and therefore sourced to Montefiore,” she said.
To mark its 20th anniversary, the JHF has published a report, reflecting on the details of its accomplishments over that period.
“I think that I really would love to have people read the 20-year report,” Feinstein said. “I think they would take pride. We are such a resourceful Jewish community. We knew when it was time to go from one strength to another.”
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)