Strengthen Health Systems

"Making Mental Health Essential Health" - A Community Health Forum

Presented by: Eastern Washington University and Providence Health Care

Supporting Sponsors: Empire Health Foundation and Kaiser Permanente 

Hear from local community experts, as we discuss behavioral health and substance abuse — one of our community’s highest areas of needed solutions and services.

When: January 31, 2018 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

  • 5-6 p.m. | Doors open to the community and access to community resources
    Please visit several local community organizations for behavioral health and substance abuse resources. It’s an opportunity to learn, engage and take action.
  • 6-8 p.m. | Keynote Presentation by The Honorable Patrick J. Kennedy
    A discussion will follow, wiht our panel of local experts:
    • Randy Russell, Superintendent, Freeman School District
    • Jeff Thomas, Chief Executive Officer, Frontier Behavioral Health
    • Linda Thompson, M.A., CPP, ICPS with Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council

This community event is an avenue for discussion and to increase awareness of resources available in our community. Health care or treatment options will not be offered.

Find out more information about the event here

‘I’m driven to make the world a better place:’ Antony Chiang, president of Empire Health Foundation, uses bold thinking to drive social change

Written and published by The Spokesman-Review, December 23, 2017

At Empire Health Foundation, Antony Chiang’s coworkers often tease him about his relationship with his white board. 

Some of the region’s thorniest social problems get listed on the board above his desk. Marker in hand, Chiang - the foundation’s president - diagrams and analyzes strategies for addressing them.

Childhood obesity? Bring scratch cooking back to school lunches.

Adults with tooth pain cycling through local emergency rooms? Help them find a dentist.

High numbers of kids in foster care? Allow families stay together while the parents get drug treatment. 

Under Chiang’s leadership, Empire Health Foundation has developed a reputation for bold thinking. It finds successful programs in other communities, then works with local partners to adapt them for Eastern Washington. 

The foundation’s work goes beyond writing checks from its $80 million endowment. By partnering with others, Chiang wants to make system-wide progress on issues like reducing kids’ waistlines, getting people access to health care, reducing school suspensions and building resilient families. 

“We’ll do whatever it takes to move the dial,” Chiang said. “My dream is that no matter who you are in this community, you would have vibrant health. When everyone has access to good health, the community wins. Everybody wins.”

Chiang, 49, is the son of immigrants from Taiwan who spent part of his growing up years in California’s Silicon Valley. People who work with Chiang describe him as entrepreneurial, analytic and compassionate. 

“He’s a visionary leader. He’s always pushing people to think bigger and bolder,” said Sarah Lyman, the foundation’s executive vice president. 

When people leave meetings with Chiang, “they’re both overwhelmed and inspired,” she said. 

Innovation and making a difference

Chiang joined Empire Health Foundation in 2010, shortly after it was created with funds from the sale of Deaconess and Valley hospitals to a for-profit Tennessee hospital chain.

He was recruited away from TechSoup Global, a nonprofit that administers corporate philanthropy for Microsoft and other tech companies. At the time, Chiang and his wife, Caroline Yu, were living in San Francisco with the oldest of their two daughters, now ages 12 and 5. 

In some ways, Chiang was an unlikely choice to lead Empire Health Foundation. He has an undergraduate degree in electrical engineering and computer science, and a Stanford University law degree.

“I wasn’t a doctor or a public health official. I’d never done grant-making,” he said. And until the interview, “I’d never set foot in Eastern Washington.”

But the board’s vision for Empire Health Foundation appealed to Chiang’s entrepreneurial instincts. 

“We wanted to create a new foundation, a learning organization. We didn’t have any of the answers, but we were passionate about advancing health equality,” he said.

At TechSoup Global, Chiang led a team that streamlined the cost of administering grants in other countries. He also had started two tech companies that serve nonprofits.

“I’ve always been at this intersection of innovation, making a difference and systems,” Chiang said.

Busting stereotypes

Chiang credits two sets of parents for influencing his outlook and career path.

His dad and mom divorced when he was 5. He grew up close to each of his parents and their new spouses. Since both parents moved multiple times for jobs, Chiang attended a dozen different schools before he started high school.

In some schools, he was the only student of color in his class. Others schools were racially and ethnically diverse. Chiang said his school experience reinforced the importance of “busting stereotypes” by getting to know people of different backgrounds.

At Empire Health Foundation, he’s worked to create an inclusive culture. “We have a diverse staff and a diverse board,” he said.

Chiang’s family also is racially diverse. “My dad remarried a blonde, Caucasian woman. My siblings are ‘hapa,’ which in the Asian American community is the term for half-half,” he said.

The only grandparents he ever knew were his step mom’s parents.

“They could have stepped out of a Norman Rockwell painting,” he said. “Some of the most loving people in my life didn’t look anything like me.”

‘A nerdy kid with a big backpack’ 

Chiang graduated from high school in Cupertino, California, better known as the home of Apple. He was “a nerdy kid with a big backpack,” whose mentors steered him toward computers and engineering.

Chiang thought he wanted to work for NASA - his step dad was a rocket scientist. But after the 1986 explosion of the Challenger space shuttle, he wondered about the future of space missions. He decided to go to law school. It was the first of several abrupt career turns for Chiang. 

“I went into public interest law thinking I was going to fight against evil in society,” he said.

After he graduated, he worked as a law clerk for several nonprofits. But Chiang found fewer bad guys than he expected. Sometimes, the system itself was the problem.

“It felt like what we were doing was band aids. I wanted to address the root cause,” he said. He gravitated to philanthropy, in jobs where he could take a systems-wide approach to social change.

Looking back, Chiang sees the strong influence of his dad and step mom on his eventual career.

His father, whom Chiang describes as a “big personality,” started several companies, including a thriving Silicon Valley real estate business. His step-mom was an elementary teacher and “the most loving, caring person I know.”

“I guess it’s in my DNA to want to be entrepreneurial,” he said. “I’m driven to make the world a better place, using all the best approaches from the for-profit and the nonprofit worlds.”

“Everyone deserves health’ 

In Spokane, Chiang has found an ideal environment for innovation. 

“I call it the Goldilocks factor,” he said. “Eastern Washington is not too big and not too small. It’s just the right size to have a sense of community and shared values. There’s a ‘help your neighbor’ ethic.”

Cooperative efforts are essential to Empire Health Foundation’s work. The income from foundation funds about $4 million of work annually. Through partnerships and other grants, millions of dollars flow into the initiatives.

“It would be ridiculous if we went around saying we would lower obesity rates by ourselves, or reduce the foster care rate,” Chiang said. “We have to do it with key partners.” 

Childhood obesity was one of the foundation’s first big projects. About one in three Eastern Washington students is overweight or obese. Rather than trying to change individual students’ eating habits, the foundation took a system-wide approach, zeroing in on processed food in school lunches. 

“Instead of relying on kids to choose a salad, we’re offering all healthy choices,” said Lyman, the foundation’s executive vice president. 

Since 2011, the foundation has worked with nine school districts to bring scratch cooking and local produce back to the lunch menu. To transform school kitchens, the foundation provided $2 million in grants for new equipment and staff training. 

This year, the districts will serve 4.7 million scratch-cooked meals. The foundation is tracking changes in students’ body mass index. To date, Cheney School District has seen the most progress. Among K-5 students, the BMI has dropped 4.5 percent.

At Spokane Public Schools, Superintendent Shelley Redinger also credits Empire Health Foundation for training that helps staff work with students who’ve been exposed to trauma. Those students also receive training to help them “self-regulate” emotions to reduce disruptive behavior. 

The foundation’s work with Spokane Public Schools addresses both physical and mental health, said Kevin Morrison, director of communications.

“If we have students coming to our classrooms who are hungry, or having sugar highs or unregulated behavior, our teachers can’t teach,” he said.

Empire Health Foundation also works on initiatives to improve graduation rates and reduce school suspensions. 

In the health field, the foundation is a partner in efforts to increase the number of family doctors in Washington and help people sign up for health insurance. In rural areas, the foundation works on aging and Native American health issues.

Strengthening families to keep kids out of foster care is another focus.

In Spokane County, children are in foster care at higher ratios than the state average. So in October, the foundation and Catholic Charities launched Rising Strong, a residential program that allows parents to stay with their children while they’re getting drug and alcohol treatment.

“What we’re doing is leveraging the power of the love for their children to become clean and sober, and change the trajectory of that family,” Chiang said.

Chiang wants Empire Health Foundation to be known as a champion for health equity, and an organization that makes real impacts on people’s lives. 

“Everyone deserves health,” he said, “no matter their economic station in life, no matter their race, no matter their religion.”

Washington’s Cancer Research Fund Selects Spokane’s Empire Health Foundation As Program Administrator for New Public-Private Partnership

CARE Fund’s First RFP to Bring Top Cancer Researchers to State Coming This Summer

The Cancer Research Endowment (CARE) Fund, a new public-private partnership that supports cancer research in Washington, has selected Empire Health Foundation (EHF) in Spokane to serve as its Program Administrator. EHF will be responsible for administering grants to fund cancer research that utilizes the best science with the greatest potential to improve health outcomes for Washingtonians.    

“We are excited to have Empire Health Foundation as a partner in this new approach to supporting cancer research in Washington state,” said Dr. Frederick Appelbaum, chair of the CARE Board and executive vice president and deputy director of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. “The CARE Fund will leverage our state’s existing cancer research organizations and talent to advance cancer care in Washington. With new investments, we are going to recruit top researchers from all over the world to bring their best-in-class talent to Washington and set the stage for new collaborations that can generate the next big discovery in cancer research.”

“Empire Health Foundation is deeply committed to the CARE Fund’s goals and is eager to launch and scale this important initiative for our state,” said Antony Chiang, president of Empire Health Foundation. “Washington has world-class, innovative cancer research happening across the state, and the CARE Fund will provide critical support to push those efforts even further.”

The CARE Fund was seeded with $5 million in public funding in the 2015-17 budget. The Legislature is authorized to provide up to $10 million per year in public funding for 10 years, and all public funding must be matched by private or other non-state resources. 

The Board recently adopted an initial strategic plan to focus on two priority areas:

  • Distinguished Researchers. The CARE Fund will match up to $500,000 to fund recruitment packages that bring leading cancer researchers to cancer research institutions in Washington.
  • Breakthrough Fund. The Breakthrough Fund will provide grants up to $750,000 in the first year to partnerships or collaborations solving a critical problem or trying to achieve a transformational breakthrough.

A request for proposals for the Distinguished Researchers program will be released this summer. Proposals for the Breakthrough Fund will be solicited and evaluated later this year. 

As part of its work as Program Administrator, EHF will work with expert scientific review panels to provide independent evaluation of grant applications. Only grants recommended by the review panels can be awarded by the CARE Board.

CARE is created and defined by statute (RCW 43.348), wherein the Legislature and Governor recognized that “Washington has an existing infrastructure of world-class cancer research and care centers for children and adults that can develop and apply new techniques for the prevention of cancer and care of cancer patients throughout the state.” Lawmakers further found that “sustained investment in cancer research, prevention, and care is critical to reducing long-term health costs, saving lives, and relieving pain and suffering.” CARE is intended to provide additional public resources dedicated exclusively to cancer research.

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 (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). 

The CARE Board first met in October 2016 to discuss priorities for cancer research funding and to begin mapping out a strategic funding plan; adopted its initial strategic plan in February 2017; issued the Program Administrator RFP in April 2017; and selected EHF after a competitive bidding process. The Department of Commerce finalized the contract with EHF for that role earlier this month.

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 $80 million, EHF invests in ideas and organizations that improve access, education, research and policy to result in a measurably healthier region.



CARE Fund:        

Thomas Bates


Empire Health Foundation:

Sarah Lyman


The Debate Over the Legalization of Dental Therapists Continues

An increasing number of states are legalizing dental therapists. Currently they have varying degrees of legal status in Minnesota, Vermont and Alaska, a growing number of other states are in the legal process of considering it, while more are still in the discussion phase.  

So, what exactly are dental therapists? 

Dental therapists have mid-level qualifications that place them above dental hygienists and below full-fledged dentists. They also take the same licensing test as dentists, they just take a shorter version.

Dental therapists are trained to do everyday low-risk operations such as fillings, temporary crowns and extractions. 

Currently, only 40% of dentists in the U.S. currently accept Medicaid coverage.

Proponents argue that legalizing dental therapists increases the number of dental professionals qualified to do these common procedures, thereby expanding accessibility for people with lower incomes or on federal assistance programs. 

On the other hand, opponents of the program are weary of potential lower levels in quality of care. 

While Minnesota has completely legalized dental therapists, a number of states that have legalized or are considering legalizing them conditionally. For instance, in Vermont, dental therapists can only legally work under the supervision of dentists. Massachusetts legislation is proposing that dental therapists would only be allowed to work on Medicaid recipients or in counties with a lack of sufficient dentists. 

Dental therapy legislation was first introduced in Washington in 2011 and has been brought forth every year since.

Concrete Goods Solidifying Futures

A new program is underway at the Family Impact Network that supplies families in need with safety and health products. It will particularly focus on expanding accessibility of these goods to the more rural areas of eastern Washington, providing support to families with little available nearby.

The project is being funded through some extra unallocated funding from FAR (Family Assessment Response). Some of these goods are purchased directly from the manufacturer, others are purchased through distributors like Amazon or Home Depot. By purchasing these concrete goods in bulk and then distributing as needed, FIN receives the best value on goods. This allows the program to distribute more of these products for cheaper.

Some of the most needed products include safety items for families with young children such as car seats, safety gates and child-proofing supplies. Additionally, the program constructs packs of concrete goods that include personal hygiene and menstruation products. There are options for packs of cleaning supplies and vacuums to help families maintain a clean home as well.


The project started in July, and the product packs became available at all five locations in Spokane, Colville, Colfax, Newport and Moses Lake as of Thursday September 15. Residents in all 8 counties of eastern Washington will have access to these products and packs through their social worker.

Heading up the project is Concrete Goods Manager Sam Song. He recently described a story in which he had researched and found a used washing machine and dryer for a family. The importance of services like these to the lives of the family members cannot be overstated.

In 2013 Washington State Department of Health reported that housing conditions have a significant impact on the future health of the child.

The Family Impact Network aims to provide the support to families struggling to stay together by supplying them with products needed to maintain a safe and healthy lifestyle. This new project is an exciting expansion of services that will reach new populations in need.