Antony Chiang has been bitten by the startup bug once again, nearly a decade after first assuming leadership of Empire Health Foundation and guiding the nonprofit’s charitable giving through its formative years.
“It’s hard to leave 10 years of pouring every ounce of passion and skill into building an organization, really from the ground up as the first employee,” said Chiang, 51, on Tuesday, after announcing his resignation to pursue a similar job in North Carolina.
Under Chiang’s guidance, which began in February 2010, Empire Health Foundation’s endowment has grown from roughly $40 million to near $80 million. The nonprofit, initially established with funds from the sale of Deaconess and Valley hospitals to Community Health Systems in 2008, has partnered with local governments, tribes and other nonprofits on efforts to reduce childhood obesity, increase care options for aging populations in rural areas and keep families experiencing crises together as they address substance abuse issues.
Credit for the work goes to the foundation’s strong community board, Chiang said, and to a management team that has exceeded his expectations when he traveled to Spokane nearly a decade ago after a career establishing technology firms in California that aided nonprofits.
Empire and Chiang had to start their philanthropic efforts small, after the foundation remained responsible for the pension program for the hospitals that the buyer, Community Health Services, did not agree to take on.
But after some lean early years, that footprint grew as the nonprofit spent roughly 5% of its endowment each year, which now totals roughly $4 million a year, and also leveraged their own dollars with other agencies, Chiang said.
“I think Spokane is the kind of community, and size of community, where collaboration is in a sweet spot,” Chiang said. “If you think about it, our toughest social issues, if they were easy to solve, one actor would just solve them. But you need the whole village to solve them.”
Chiang said in each of the major health and wellness issues facing the region, there’s an element of disparity among groups that Empire Health Foundation tried to make the focus of their efforts. That includes foster children, who experience homelessness, drug abuse and incarceration at greater rates than their peers in stable households. That’s a focus of the foundation’s efforts with Catholic Charities, Premera Blue Cross and Providence Health Care through “Rising Strong,” a substance-abuse treatment program that enables families receiving services to remain under one roof.
Garlan Lutz, a former executive at Deaconess Hospital, was one of the founding board members of the foundation and interviewed Chiang before his hire nine years ago. Lutz said Tuesday it was Chiang’s enthusiasm and vision for the new nonprofit that endeared him to board members in Empire’s early days.
“He had a better idea of where we could go at the time, I think, than even we did,” Lutz said. “Ten years later, Empire Health Foundation has a much greater presence in Spokane, and it’s improved the health status of many, many communities.”
A donation of $40 million from Providence Health Care in 2013 nearly doubled the nonprofit’s endowment, making it the largest nonprofit in the region at the time, according to news reports.
Chiang is leaving Spokane for Dogwood Health Trust, an Asheville, North Carolina-based foundation with a mission similar to Empire’s. There, he will be responsible for stewarding assets initially valued at $1.5 billion from the sale of six hospitals under the Mission Health system to for-profit HCA Healthcare, a Nashville-based firm.
“There’s a lot of deja vu,” said Chiang, noting that the urban density of Western North Carolina, an area he’ll be responsible for in the new position starting in November, is similar to that in Eastern Washington. “A lot of what I would say are very parallel health and wellness and equity issues.”
Dogwood selected Chiang after a nationwide search, and the chair of their governing board praised Chiang in a statement released Tuesday.
“His commitment to health equity and inclusion, his talent for forging meaningful partnerships, and his ingenious approach to solving chronic problems that affect health and wellness will be invaluable as we enter this next important chapter for Dogwood Health Trust,” Janice Brumit, the board chair, said in the statement.
Jeffrey Bell, the chairman of Empire Health Foundation’s board, will serve as president of the nonprofit as it conducts its own nationwide search for a replacement. Lutz, who spent six years with the foundation, said Spokane is losing a great collaborator in Chiang but that he’s left the organization in a good position.
“It’s a sweet and sour thing to see him leave,” Lutz said. “But he did it in a way that has left a strong legacy behind.”
Chiang’s last day at Empire Health Foundation will be sometime in mid-September. He said Tuesday he’s looking forward to the challenges in North Carolina, while also acknowledging it was a tough decision for his family with two school-age daughters.
“I have not spent 10 years at any of my other start-ups. Typically, the bug bites much earlier,” Chiang said. “But this was just such an exciting chapter here.”
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