Getting to Know a Big New Mental Health Funder in California

photo:  pimchawee/shutterstock

photo:  pimchawee/shutterstock

Anytime we hear about the first round of grants from a new foundation, our ears immediately perk up. As we recently reported, new health legacy foundations have been making a big impact on the health philanthropy scene in in various parts of the country. Many of these funders are still finding their footing in the grantmaking world and dabbling in a several focus areas to see what fits. However, other health legacy funders are single-minded in their focus and know exactly what they want to support right out of the gate.

Related: These Health Foundations Are Everywhere. And They're Stepping Up Their Game

That's the case with a new grantmaking foundation in California called the Well Being Trust (WBT), which formed when Providence Health and Services and St. Joseph Health came together to form Providence St. Joseph Health in July 2016. It began with a seed endowment of $100 million and has been exclusively focused on mental health since inception.

The Well Being Trust recently announced its very first $10 million in grants and contracts to mental health and wellness initiatives. All of these grants are staying inside the California state borders. These grants are backing everyone from preschoolers to seniors, as well as the homeless and people struggling with addiction.

The chief executive of the WBT, Tyler Norris, said:

Nearly one in six Californians live with mental health challenges, and we know that roughly half of adults and two-thirds of children are not receiving the care they need. That burdens families across the community and the state. Significant gaps remain, and through these early grants, we are working with our partners to bridge these gaps to provide for California’s most vulnerable populations facing mental health, substance use and related challenges.

What’s interesting about this new foundation’s support so far is its dual commitment to both Northern and Southern California. To make up that $10 million, WBT awarded eight grants in Southern California to groups like the Safety Net Integration Program for disadvantaged populations in the San Fernando Valley and Outpatient Crisis Stabilization in Los Angeles County. It also awarded four Northern California grants in this first round, including awards to the Committee on the Shelterless, a Sonoma County coordinated health, wellness, and housing initiative, and the Sonoma County Whole Person Care Strategy.

This initial $10 million is part of a larger $30 million commitment to mental health in California, so we’re expecting to see more support for Northern and Southern California groups soon. To make grant decisions thus far, the new WBT staff has partnered with the Providence St. Joseph Health and other community partners to identify the areas of greatest need within the realm of mental health. This first round of grants was largely focused on new and existing Providence St. Joseph programs across the state. At least in these very early stages, the foundation seems to be strongly guided by the work its health organization partner is already involved with and its existing infrastructure. Affiliated institutions in California include the Facey Medical Group, Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian and St. Joseph Heritage Healthcare.

But while the focus so far has been on the state of California, Bay Area and Los Angeles groups shouldn’t get too used to receiving this funder’s steady support. Providence St. Joseph Health has 50 hospitals, 829 physician clinics and serves seven states. After this initial $30 million is gone, we wouldn’t be surprised to see funding shift to Alaska, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas or Washington instead. WBT’s mission isn’t a California-specific one, as it has stated its commitment to addressing mental health challenges throughout America. But now is a good time for Northern and Southern California groups to get a foot in the door with this health legacy foundation.