Our Journey towards Health Equity

By: Christina Kamkosi, EHF Program Coordinator

It has been 10 years since Empire Health Foundation (EHF) was created from the sale of Deaconess and Valley Hospitals in Spokane. Amidst all of the milestones we’ve achieved, there has also been growth opportunities and great lessons learned on how we can better live out our values as a foundation. At EHF, we practice an adaptive, results-based style of philanthropy we call Philanthropy 3.0, which fuses innovation, collaboration and a drive for the advancement of health equity to do whatever it takes to make a measurable impact.

Our Commitment

“Equity means different things to different people and everything to ‘different’ people. Empire Health Foundation is committed to improving health in our region for all of the communities we represent.”

-Gary Stokes, EHF Board President

Our health equity statement narrates our commitment to help everyone reach their full health potential and it serves as the definition of what we think needs to happen to carry out our mission. We also recognize that this statement has the potential to change over time as we adapt to the needs of our region. 

Achieving health equity is a bold goal which recognizes that solving today’s toughest issues is about much more than just writing a check or funding a one-size-fits-all type of strategy. Achieving heath equity takes thoughtful leadership and the consideration of the impact of history and policies that affect our systems. The premise around equity is that not every person or every community starts from the same place. Under-resourced and under-represented communities have far more disparities due to deep-rooted barriers, which are a result of unfair and unjust policies and practices at every systematic level.

Equality vs. Equity RWJ Foundation.png

At EHF, we define health by much more than medicine, disease or one’s physical condition. Research has shown that we are the product of our environment as well as the conditions or factors we encounter as we live, learn, work and play. These defining elements are called social determinants of health and are the reasons why we are investing in initiatives that not only address physical and behavioral health, but also the social, economic and environmental needs of individuals (education, mitigating adverse childhood experiences, workforce development, etc.). We believe these kinds of investments in health are key to reducing and ultimately eliminating existing disparities. We are in pursuit of health equity for all.

Washington’s Cancer Research Endowment Fund (CARE) Awards $1.5 Million to Recruit World-Class Researchers to State

SPOKANE – The Andy Hill Cancer Research Endowment (CARE), a public-private partnership that supports cancer research in Washington, announced today its second round of grant awards totaling $1.5 million to leading research scientists with the aim of advancing cancer research in the state.

Individual grants of $500,000 were awarded to three new CARE Fund Distinguished Researchers, all of whom are hosted by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, who include: Dr. Geoffrey Hill, a renowned Bone Marrow Transplantation (BMT) and Graft Versus Host Disease (GVHD) physician-scientist, whose research focuses on better understanding GVHD pathogenesis with regard to innate and cellular immunity; Dr. Thomas Kensler, an expert in carcinogenesis and chemoprevention whose research focuses on chemoprevention as an opportunity to reduce cancers related to unavoidable environmental exposures; and Dr. Evan Newell, a leading researcher in immune cell characterization. View the grant awardees’ full bios here.

The $1.5 million in awards of public funds to support recruitment and start-up packages for CARE Fund Distinguished Researchers will be matched by more than $10 million in non-state funds committed by the host organization.

“This is an incredibly experienced and internationally-recognized group of researchers who will advance cancer research in our state,” said Eunice Hostetter, Secretary of the CARE Board and the Washington State Lead Ambassador for the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network. “The CARE Fund is pleased to support bringing these talented researchers to Washington. Each researcher builds additional investment in cancer research, carrying the promise of real progress toward improving health."

In addition to making grant awards for Distinguished Researchers, the CARE Board invited 11 full proposals from 17 letters of intent that were submitted for funding from its Breakthrough Research Program. This program will provide funding for innovative, cross-disciplinary research and multi-institution collaborations that aim to find the next big discovery in cancer research. Full research proposals will be submitted in the next few weeks and include lead institutions such as the Community Cancer Fund, Institute for Systems Biology, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, University of Washington and Seattle Children’s Research Institute, and also include participating institutions like the Elson S. Floyd College of Medicine at Washington State University, Providence Medical Research Center, Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, and leading technology and bioscience companies.

Grant applications for the recruitment of Distinguished Researchers were independently reviewed by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and those researchers recommended for funding were approved by the CARE Board. This cohort of Distinguished Researchers was recruited from The University of Queensland, the University of Pittsburgh, and the Singapore Immunology Network.

Based on the objectives of the CARE Fund, applications were reviewed and evaluated on their ability to:

  • Optimize the use of public funds by giving priority to research utilizing the best science and technology with the greatest potential to improve health outcomes;

  • Increase the value of our public investments by leveraging our state's existing cancer research facilities and talent, as well as clinical and therapeutic resources;

  • Incentivize additional investment by requiring private or other non-state resources to match public funds; 

  • Create jobs and encourage investments that will generate new tax revenues in our state; and; 

  • Advance the biotech, medical device, and health care information technology industries in Washington. 

Previous awardees include Dr. James Heath, President of the Institute for Systems Biology and Dr. Heather Greenlee a Doctor of Naturopathic Medicine with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Director of the Integrative Medicine Program at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance.

About the Andy Hill CARE Fund

Washington State is home to world-class cancer research and care centers. With the establishment and funding of the Andy Hill Cancer Research Endowment (CARE) Fund, Washington State affirmed its commitment to saving lives, relieving pain and suffering, and reducing long-term health costs through sustained investment in cancer research. 

Created by the Legislature in 2015, the law (Chapter 43.348 RCW) enables the State to provide up to $10 million annually for 10 years to exclusively fund cancer research in Washington State. The fund is built on a public-private partnership model and incentivizes additional investment by requiring private or other non-state resources to match state funding.

The Andy Hill CARE Fund is projected to fund approximately 15 Distinguished Researchers and three Breakthrough Research Projects by 2020. To date, $3.5 million has been awarded for the recruitment of seven world-class cancer researchers and an additional $20 million has been committed by non-state resources to match state funding. 

The CARE Board, appointed by the Governor, includes Elaine Albert (Seattle Children’s Hospital), Leslie Alexandre (Life Science Washington), Frederick Appelbaum (Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center), Thomas Brown (Swedish Cancer Institute), David Byrd (University of Washington Medicine), Weihang Chai (Washington State University), Carol Dahl (The Lemelson Foundation), Steven Harr (formerly, Juno Therapeutics), James Hendricks (Seattle Children’s Research Institute), Eunice Hostetter (American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network), and Jennifer Kampsula Wong (American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network). 


Empire Health Foundation (EHF) serves as Program Administrator for the Andy Hill Cancer Research Endowment (CARE). EHF is responsible for working with expert scientific review panels to provide independent evaluation of grant applications, and partners with the CARE Board to administer grants to fund cancer research that utilizes the best science with the greatest potential to improve health outcomes for Washingtonians.  

Futurism in food

Cheney District a leader in healthy school lunches

Published by the Cheney Free Press, August 23, 2018

L.J. Klinkenberg is feeding your kids lentils. 

The internationally-recognized executive chef turned director of nutrition services for Cheney School District has proven to be a powerful force for change in the school nutrition industry, and is helping catapult the district into the spotlight as a leader in the fight to make healthy, sustainable school lunches the norm in public schools.

Over the last decade, the district has been shifting away from premade, processed foods, and during Klinkenberg's four-year tenure as director, he has introduced a number of key changes, striving to broaden students' culinary horizons by including fresh fruits, veggies - and yes, lentils - into their lunches.

"We're an educational organization, to give kids a safe space to learn about food," Klinkenberg said. "We make brownies that have lentils in it, and then the kiddos try it and get excited." 

The secret, according to Klinkenberg, just comes down to making tasty food. He emphasizes the importance of trust, and said he doesn't believe in lying to children about what's in their meals. 

"I will never go to a kid and tell them that a tomato is something else. It's not fair. We're about education, not spreading false information," Klinkenberg said. "We've proven that if you put good food out there, kids will choose it."

The real trick isn't just creating food that is healthy and that kids will actually want to eat - it's doing all that while complying with strict laws that regulate lunch content, nutritional value and cost.

Read the full article here.

Empire Health Foundation Announces the 2018 Responsive and Rural Aging Grantees

SPOKANE, Wash.– Empire Health Foundation (EHF) has announced the results of the 2018 Responsive and Rural Aging Responsive Grant Programs. This year, the EHF Board of Directors approved the funding of 36 projects totaling 358,110 dollars. The grant programs serve EHF’s seven-county region of Adams, Ferry, Lincoln, Pend Oreille, Stevens, Spokane and Whitman Countiesincluding the Kalispel Tribe of Indians, Spokane Tribe of Indians and the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservations. 

Some grantees include:

  • 15,000 dollars to the Spokane Eastside Reunion Association to launch a youth workforce development program, which will build academic skills and resiliency, two proven protective factors for youth facing violence, poverty and trauma. 
  • 13,000 dollars to the Spokane Tribe’s Wellpinit Elementary School to enhance cultural identity, which will improve students’ overall psychological wellbeing and academic outcomes.
  • 13,000 dollars to Rural Resources Community Action to ensure rural access to clean and hot water.
  • 7,000 dollars to the Hispanic Business Professional Association to conduct a Health Needs Assessment for and with the Latinx/Hispanic communities in Eastern Washington. 

During the 2018 cycle, 143 applications were submitted, totaling over 1.7 million dollars in requests for grants. Of the 36 approved grants, 20 are Responsive grants totaling 200,000 dollars and 16 are Rural Aging Responsive grants totaling 158,110 dollars. 85 percent of the Responsive grants will address diversity and equity measures in our region to advance health for all. View the full list of grantees here.

“This year, we received applications for projects from throughout the seven counties and three tribal areas where we work to measurably improve health. The diversity of proposals informs us of what communities want and need to become overall healthier places to live and work," said Mary Selecky, Co-Chair of EHF’s Strategies, Policies & Communications Committee.

The Responsive Grants Program is designed to address one-time, emergent needs. Nonprofits, religious institutions, behavioral health organizations and government agencies may apply for funds up to 15,000 dollars. The Rural Aging Grants Program also provides up to 15,000 dollars of funding, but with a focus on one-time projects designed to help older adults in rural communities live full, meaningful lives with independence and dignity.

About Empire Health Foundation:

Empire Health Foundation is a private health conversion foundation formed in 2008 through the sale of Deaconess and Valley Medical, a nonprofit hospital system in Spokane. Stewarding philanthropic assets totaling approximately 77 million dollars, the Foundation invests in ideas and organizations that improve health access, education, research and policy to result in a measurably healthier region. 


Brain Science is Clear: Child Separations Will Have Major Long-Term Negative Impacts.

What do we do? We want to hear from you. 

By: Sarah Lyman, Executive Vice President, and Shivon Brite, Program Director/Director of Strategy

Undoubtedly, the federal child removals at the U.S.-Mexico border will have horrific consequences for the children currently being detained, their families, and other undocumented immigrants. We've seen the heartbreaking impacts of child removals upon Native American communities. Indian boarding schools traumatized hundreds of thousands of children in the 19th Century. Native or not, research proves that forcefully removing children from communities results in poorer public health and devastating losses of cultural wealth.  

Even since President Trump’s executive order, latest counts show roughly 3,000 children are still detained, with little clarity about whether, how or when they will be reunified with their parents. On June 26th, a Federal Judge in California ruled that children and parents separated at the border must be reunited within 30 days. While this is clearly a major milestone, there is still much uncertainty about how this will play out. According to pediatricians and other professionals on the ground, some of the children have been moved to other parts of the country, and many are falling through the cracks without paper trails, making it extremely difficult for parents or other professionals to locate the children. There have been allegations of abuse by patrol officers, and children as young as infants are being neglected and left to cry without physical contact by a caregiver day after day. 

Brain science is clear. Being separated from a parent is a traumatic experience that has lifelong negative impacts on brain development for children. A Harvard study found that children who experienced foster care are nearly twice as likely to suffer from Post  Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) than U.S. war veterans returning from tours in Iraq. Now, layer the extreme fear and anxiety experienced by children in these detention centers onto that, where their fate is completely unknown to them, and they are experiencing physical and emotional neglect for extended periods of time in a language many can’t understand or speak.

This is a dangerous and tragic cocktail for vulnerable children who have been stripped of their support system and their human rights. 

As has been clearly validated through many studies, including the Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE) Study, childhood traumas like these are strongly associated with adulthood high-risk health behaviors (smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, severe obesity), as well as poor health including depression, heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease and shortened lifespan. Compared to an ACE score of zero, having four adverse childhood experiences was associated with a 700% increase in alcoholism, a doubling of risk of being diagnosed with cancer, and a 400% increase in emphysema as an adult. 

Even if these current actions by our government are reversed and children are actually reunified with their parents in the short term, there is no question that these traumatic experiences will have lasting negative consequences. This is a humanitarian crisis - plain and simple. 

Have we not learned anything from our painful history as a country? 

The Indian boarding schools devastated Native communities. Under the pretense of helping Native Nations, the U.S. promoted this assimilation policy with the slogan “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.” Most of the hundreds of thousands of children were forced into these schools through starvation, where the Federal government withheld food rations until families relinquished children, or kidnapping, where government officials stole children from their homes. Many of these children died from homesickness, working accidents, uncontrolled diseases, and ill-planned escape attempts. Graveyards still sit behind these school dorms and classrooms. These schools were abolished in the 1940’s, but the damage had been done. The surviving children came back to their communities without their Native languages, life ways, religions, or parenting models. They were forever changed and deeply traumatized.

Today, the cumulative effects of these types of human rights violations are called “historical traumas.” Research on historical trauma shows that there are multi-generational health harms. Whether its Jewish children removed in Auschwitz or Native children removed in Washington State, the collective health outcomes are the same – lower life expectancy, poorer health, worse quality of life.

As Shivon Brite, Program Director for EHF’s Native American Health portfolio stated: 

“These child removals are breaking our hearts. We are still living the impact of these types of policies. Impacts that have turned our once large and vibrant communities into a minority among minorities who endure the worst health – period. This discussion needs to include our Tribal leaders. This is our story less than a century ago.” 

It is our duty and obligation as a country, and as fellow human beings to help. Empire Health Foundation is a regional health foundation focused in a small seven-county region and we’ve been asking ourselves: what can we do? What are value-added roles we could play in an effort to step up in the face of this humanitarian crisis? Even though the acute impact is happening in a geographic region far away from our defined service area, the effects of these policies and practices have deep ripples throughout the country and throughout our region. 

Admittedly, we feel somewhat helpless. But some initial ideas of things EHF could directly support include:  

  • Support convenings of local Hispanic/Latinx communities as well as experts such as pediatricians, legal advocates, trauma professionals to identify ways to provide critical counseling, mental health and language services support to the children and families impacted. 
  • Help educate regional groups and policy makers about the impacts of trauma and evidenced based strategies to mitigate the long-term impacts of trauma.
  • Connect mobilized professionals and organizations to other funders who might be able to provide financial resources or link people to existing coordinated efforts.
  • Participate in regional funder networks focused on supporting organizations and efforts working with immigrants and refugee populations.

What else should we be doing to stand up and support families and children in crisis? We want to hear from you.