Serious Money Flows to a Texas Campus for Brain Research from a Quiet Health Funder

The Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation focuses its grantmaking on organizations that are working to improve the quality of health for those living in the lower Rio Grande area. Given its limited geographic focus, the foundation does not often show up on our radar. But the foundation—which usually awards grants in the $50,000 to $500,000 range—just made a significant gift to support neuroscience.

The foundation awarded the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley (UTRGV) a $15 million gift to its school of medicine. The donation will establish the new UTRGV Institute for Neuroscience. According to the press release, the new institute “catalyzes multidisciplinary research, integrated clinical service, educational programs and community outreach and engagement with hospital partners in the areas of mind/brain health, behavior and prevention.” The institute is bringing together existing residencies in psychiatry, internal medicine, family medicine, and preventative and behavioral health.

The latest gift from Valley Baptist brings its total support to UTRGV to $22 million. We know that Valley Baptist focuses its grantmaking on the lower Rio Grande region of Texas, which, geographically speaking, is pretty narrow. But the $15 million gift to support neuroscience had us wondering what this quiet funder was all about, so we did some digging.

The Valley Baptist Medical Foundation was established in 1976 with the original mission of fundraising to support the Valley Baptist Health System. In September 2011, the Valley Baptist Health System joined up with Vanguard Health Systems. As a result of that joint venture, the foundation received funds for its grantmaking program. Soon thereafter, the foundation changed its name to the Valley Baptist Legacy Foundation, which is more simply known as the Legacy Foundation.

Legacy has four grantmaking programs that offer grants ranging from $50,000 to $500,000. The foundation also considers awarding grants for over $500,000 on a case-by-case basis. The foundation’s areas of funding interest are fairly broad, but revolve around health and healthcare. Priority funding topics include obesity, diabetes, healthy lifestyles, mental health, aging, dental health, access to healthcare, and medical education. In addition to its grantmaking, Legacy also offers a scholarship program to individuals working toward a career in healthcare.

Neuroscience isn’t necessarily a major funding focus of the foundation, which is one reason why its $15 million gift to UTRGV is a bit unexpected. Legacy’s mental health program may play into this gift, but not much. The foundation’s mental health grantmaking focuses on mental health disorders, but not the neuroscience behind those disorders.

Legacy backs organizations that are treating those who struggle with chronic depression and who self-report their mental health as being fair or poor. As well, it support groups that are looking into the low frequency of people who seek help after a depression diagnosis and the high frequency of those who don’t seek out help until they are in crisis and possibly a danger to themselves and others.

The foundation’s interest in funding medical education may also play a bit of role in its monster gift to UTRGV, but again, not much. Legacy’s giving in this space centers on programs addressing the workforce shortages in health professions.

While it’s true that the geographic focus of Legacy’s grantmaking is narrow, the work it's backing at the UTRGV Institute for Neurosciences will likely be anything but. The institute will focus on a wide range of core activities including building capacity for integrated care across a number of disciplines, developing medical student clerkships in psychiatry and neurology, fostering multidisciplinary research and services programs, and launching health and prevention programs in behavioral health and neurological disorders.