For the first few years, RMHF operated quietly as a responsive grantmaker as its Board and executive director, Jeff Cribbs, worked to learn about community needs and identify ways in which RMHF might engage to address those needs. Under Cribbs’ tutelage, RMHF’s Board began to consider new ways to become more intentional and strategic about its work, identifying focus areas and funding priorities.
During this time, two key initiatives emerged: one to build a strong leadership development program for nurses through the Nurse Leadership Institute, and another to support a collaborative effort of six safety net clinics to become certified in the Patient-Centered Medical Home model of care. The Foundation also made philanthropic investments to support planning and delivering services to the aging and to improve community and population health.
Gradually, RMHF’s culture began to shift from one that was solidly rooted in the traditional world of clinical healthcare to one that was becoming more open and inclusive in terms of what it truly meant to be a “health funder” and a community partner.
In 2015, the Board began to explore population health and the possibilities of “working upstream” in the health continuum and focusing on the social determinants of health rather than on clinical approaches. At the same time, Cribbs was helping the Board begin to learn about alternative ways in which the Foundation could invest some of its programmatic and endowment assets in vehicles that were aligned with its mission.
When Cribbs retired in February 2016, the Board hired Mark Constantine, Ph.D., formerly senior vice president of the Jessie Ball duPont Fund in Jacksonville, Florida, to serve as President & CEO. The Board’s charge to Constantine was clear: continue and build on the momentum toward becoming a more transformative funder.
Under the guidance of then-chair Michele McKinnon, the RMHF Board began a process of deep learning about how structural issues of inequity have a profound negative effect on health outcomes and life expectancy based on zip code and race. In the fall of 2016, the RMHF Board publicly embraced a broad commitment to health equity by issuing a new Strategic Framework that named equity among its values and priorities.
During this same period, RMHF funded the creation of a Market Value Analysis (MVA) of housing in the region, highlighting the critical need for investments to preserve and develop safe, affordable housing throughout the region. In early 2017, Board and staff designed and launched the RMHF Equity + Health Fellowship program, which brought together 18 diverse community members who met over the course of a year and ultimately delivered a set of written recommendations to the RMHF Board describing roles the Foundation could play to more strategically and effectively live into the mission of fostering an equitable and healthy Richmond Region. That same year, RMHF launched the Health Equity and Arts (HEArts) Program, engaging eight local artists and artists collectives to explore the intersection of health and creative self-expression.
Also in 2017, RMHF was one of many partners who helped Richmond earn the Culture of Health Prize from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. This award, though small in terms of dollars, helped energize efforts to achieve greater health and health equity throughout the city.
A second class of Equity + Health Fellows convened in 2018, this time including 12 grassroots and community-based leaders with specific projects focused in increasing equity – from housing, to food security, to community gathering spaces, to preventing isolation, and more.
On October 31, 2018, RMHF celebrated its 20th anniversary with some 320 community members in attendance. The event marked a significant milestone in the organization’s journey and provided an opportunity to look eagerly to the future, where we envision a community in which everyone has access to the resources they need to live healthy and happy lives.