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First WNC Legacy Foundation Opens Grant Application After Mission Health Sale

Lilly Knoepp
The Villiage Green park in Cashiers is a centerpiece of the town which sits at 3,484 ft elevation.

  The sale of the Mission Health System means more than $1-billion in proceeds would be awarded to groups in Western North Carolina through grants.  The first grant applications are now being accepted by one legacy foundation of its hospitals. BPR attended one of the workshops for the grant in Cashier.



After the sale of Mission, the foundations at all 6 of its hospital’s needed to shift priorities from to supporting the hospitals to supporting this communities around them, since all of those hospitals are now owned by for-profit HCA Health.


Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation will now focus on ‘social determinants of health’ in 6 counties - Macon, Jackson, Swain, Graham, Cherokee and Clay.  Robin Tindall is its executive director.


“We have learned that great health and healthy wellbeing means a whole lot more than the absence of illness,” says Tindall.


Think of social determinants of health as the building blocks recommended for a healthy life that aren’t just healthcare.  If a person is struggling to pay their electric bill, it impacts their health. You need electricity for fresh food, to get ready for work and so much more.


Tindall explains the grant workshops are held to help organizations know what to include in their proposals. Highlands Cashiers wants to hear from organizations that target four focus areas: access to healthcare, education, community vitality and economic stability.  


“We’re very excited to look at the social determinants of health and how to help our communities and look at the root causes and the barriers that there are to being healthy,” says Tindall.


Over 30 people from Swain, Jackson and Macon counties attended the first workshop.  Regina Ash is the Stem and Afterschool programs director in Swain County. She says the school system plans to apply for a grant but they are still narrowing down their ideas. Swain County is ranked 93rd out of 100 counties in the state for health, and Ash knows that education is a social determinant of health.


“Swain County has a lot of needs and education funding keeps winnowing every year so we thought this would be a good way to support our students and their families issues - health and in education wise,” says Ash.


Because Mission was a non-profit system, its sale produced over $1 billion dollars in proceeds that will be awarded through the Dogwood Health Trust.  It’s already promised $5 million to each of the six hospital legacy foundations plus $10 million more in the next two years.


That’s where Sara Coplai comes in.  She works for Dogwood. Her role is to help the legacy foundations write grant applications and educate the community about social determinants of health.


“So what they are hoping to do over time is be more preventative. So if we can impact 70 percent of our health social determinant areas - education, healthcare, community vitality, neighborhood and built environment and economic stability then we impact how is it going to help health downstream for people,” Coplai explains.


Coplai says most of the employees at the trust don’t have official titles yet because they are just getting started. Dogwood launched in February.


“The Dogwood Health Trust is a private non-operating foundation. They won’t operate their own programs so they are depending on the legacy foundations to achieve that work with local place based philanthropy with local groups that will accomplish the work,” she says.


The Highlands Cashiers Health Foundation grant application is on its website. It is due on June 15. The foundation says they hope to accept a second round of grant applications later this year.

Lilly Knoepp is Senior Regional Reporter for Blue Ridge Public Radio. She has served as BPR’s first fulltime reporter covering Western North Carolina since 2018. She is from Franklin, NC. She 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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