Amy Allen

There is plenty in the news these days about the financial challenges surrounding health care. Consumer out-of-pocket spending on health care jumped 10% in 2021, a trend that is expected to continue at that growth rate for at least the next five years. At the same time, rural health care systems like Lake Region Healthcare (LRH) are struggling as declining reimbursement rates and disproportionate funding levels make it challenging to meet the needs of the rural communities they serve. This is why we see an emerging emphasis on philanthropy in the growth and financial strategies of community-based health care organizations. A strong health care system is part of the economic foundation of a community, often the major employer and a major contributor to the tax base. But the economic vitality of rural health care providers today is at risk like never before.

People may not realize that LRH is a nonprofit community-based health care organization. LRH is a public charity, organized for the purpose of delivering health care and related services. This hasn’t been a topic of much conversation in the past, so there are some important clarifications about what that means and why a purposeful and deliberate effort to increase community financial support is in the works through the efforts of the LRH Foundation.

What is a nonprofit?

The definition of nonprofit is a company “not conducted or maintained for the purpose of making a profit.” Nonprofits are one of many business categories. Nonprofits are not publicly owned (like a big-box store, for example) that exist to return earnings to shareholders. Nonprofits are not individually owned or family-owned companies like many of the great local businesses in our communities. Privately owned companies exist for a small group of individuals or families to earn a living from. (By the way, we support and value all publicly owned and privately owned businesses). Nonprofits are also not government sponsored or owned organizations like some area county hospitals that are extensions of a municipal organization that is supported by taxpayer dollars.

Nonprofits are organizations “owned by” the community in the sense that they don’t exist to return earnings to a shareholder, to a family, or any person or persons, and are not part of taxpayer supported government. Instead, they are self-sustaining, charitable organizations of and for the communities they serve. In the case of LRH, the purpose is not creating profit, but stewarding margins to accomplish a mission. LRH does things that all charities do, such as offering free or discounted care to patients unable to pay. In 2020, for example, LRH provided over $550,000 in charity care — services provided to those who cannot pay and for which there is no reimbursement. Two emergency rooms (in Fergus Falls and Elbow Lake) are staffed and open to all community members, regardless of ability to pay, 24/7 365 days of the year. Still, profits are necessary to survive, grow, and reinvest in the facilities, equipment and people needed to provide the care our communities need. LRH strives to be self-sustaining and self-supporting through margins earned on operations. Yet, by the very nature of being a nonprofit, the charitable purpose is to serve the community and increasingly, funding from donors will be necessary to ensure resources are there to accomplish the mission.

The LRH Foundation

The LRH Foundation is organized as a supporting nonprofit with a single purpose to support the work of its parent organization, Lake Region Healthcare, in accomplishing its mission. The foundation was started back in the 1980s. In its early years, it served primarily to manage gifts made toward health care scholarships. In about 2008, the foundation was called to action in support of funding a new cancer care and research center on the Lake Region Healthcare Fergus Falls campus. Over 10-million dollars was raised for the project and the community response was inspiring. Since that time, the foundation has served as an important source of support for the cancer center in particular, receiving donations from appreciative patients, friends, and families, securing grants, and organizing fundraisers to help meet the needs of patients facing the challenges of cancer treatments. The foundation has played a vital role in supporting our healthcare heroes through the COVID pandemic as well, spearheading the COVID-19 Relief & Response Fund and the Healthcare Hero Appreciation Stations.

New Foundation Leadership

Earlier this year I was hired as the new foundation director to again help raise the bar for philanthropic support of community-based healthcare. I’ve been in the role since April and it’s been great to bring my 25 years of experience in the nonprofit sector to LRH (I worked for CentraCare as a development officer and for Alexandria Technical & Community College as the executive director of the foundation). I am a lifelong learner and I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a mini MBA in nonprofit management, and I am a certified Gallup Strengths coach. I’m also currently pursuing my master’s degree in organizational leadership.

My work for the foundation is done alongside Laura Gervais, the foundation and volunteer coordinator. We are reinventing many of the foundation’s initiatives to increase support of all kinds at all levels — from estates and planned giving to a monthly giving club called “Champions for Health,” and events like the upcoming “Night to Shine Virtual Gala.”

The Dec. 11 virtual gala event will seek to raise $50,000 for the Healthcare Education Fund to support health care workers in attaining continuing education to earn higher-level certifications and licenses. High-caliber talent is always our aim, and it will take even more intentional effort during this critical time in the health care workforce crisis. As our people learn new skills and develop new competencies, our rural health care systems reduce employee turnover, increase productivity, improve worker satisfaction, and promote staff versatility. Advancing the quality of our care team expertise also enhances the quality of care we are able to provide to you, our community. Plus, even though it’s virtual, the event includes famous American Legion rib dinners for pick up and a live auction with chances to bid on unique experiences. I hope you’ll join us for the gala and investing in community-based health care here at home.

To learn more about the LRH Foundation, to become a Champion for Health, or to purchase Gala tickets, visit www.lrhc.org/foundation.

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