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Dogwood Health Trust Isn't The First Hospital System Foundation In WNC

Photo courtesy of Great Smokies Health Foundation
The Great Smokies Health Foundation operates a Thrift Shop Grant Program. Here are the 2018 Jackson County Agencies who received funding.

  Since the Mission Health-HCA sale officially closed, the charitable foundation created with the proceeds of the sale - Dogwood Health Trust - is now official too.  While it will be the largest such foundation for Western North Carolina, it’s not the first created by the sale of a health system.  


WestCare Health System - which included Swain Community Hospital and Harris Regional Hospital - was bought by for-profit DukeLifepoint Healthcare in 2014 for about $25 million dollars. That sale created the Great Smokies Health Foundation. Michele Garisk-Ellick is its executive director. She previously ran the WestCare Foundation, which pre-dated the sale to Duke Lifepoint.


“Our purpose was no longer to support the hospital but to support the community as a community health foundation,” saysGarisk-Ellick.


Much of her current board of trustees previously worked on the WestCare Foundation.  The board includesSteve Heatherly who is the current CEO of Harris-Swain hospitals.  Garisk-Ellick says the new board was formed before she was hired.  She sees their connection to the previous hospital as a pro not a con.


“I feel like they are part of different agencies in the community and  they volunteer with different organizations,” says Garashi-Ellick . “So I think that I have people that are involved and have an ear out in the community and have an interest in the health and wellness in the communities that we serve.”


Like Dogwood Health Trust, their mission statement is broad. The organization’s mission is to improve healthcare in Jackson, Swain, Graham and Macon counties.


“When you first start out you get the opportunity to  able to give a little bit of money to a lot of organizations,” says says Garashi-Ellick .  “As go forward as your foundation moves forward and is able to give larger amounts of money.”


The Great Smokies Health Foundation has awarded about $400,000 over the last four years through their Thrift Shop Grant Program. In 2018, they gave almost 30 grants to organizations such as free clinics, local schools and county government departments.


Dogwood Health Trust will be awarding a lot more than that, as Mission Health sold for $1.5 billion. From personal experience Garashi-Ellick warns that it will be a long time before the community will see any of that money.


“Well what happened was it took a couple years to figure out who we were and if we had dollars and what we were going to look like So now were more public then we were before,” says Garashi-Ellick.


She says Great Smokies spent the first few years taking care of the hospital debts and paying legal fees. Their 2017 tax filings list over $10 million in assets. Garashi-Ellick says right now the organization has about $6 million in escrow and $3 million on hand.

The money the foundation gives out through its Thrift Shop Grant Program comes from profits at thrift shops in Jackson and Swain Country.  It also just started renting an office at the end of last year.


“Now we have a sign out on the street and we have a place where we can bring the community and bring together our grantees, volunteers and neutral location to discuss health and wellness,” says Garashi-Ellick.


Beyond the foundation, the Swain Community and Harris Regional hospitals provided almost $5 million in charity care for people without insurance in 2017.  Those for-profit hospitals also paid almost $1 million in taxes that year in Jackson and Swain counties.

 Those figures for Mission, now that it is for-profit, will take shape in the coming months and years.


Lilly Knoepp serves as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina. She is a native of Franklin, NC who returns to WNC after serving as the assistant editor of Women@Forbes and digital producer of the Forbes podcast network. She holds a master’s degree in international journalism from the City University of New York and earned a double major from UNC-Chapel Hill in religious studies and political science.
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