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Almost $12 Million Awarded By Local Legacy Foundations In 2019 - About $8 Million Undisclosed

Lilly Knoepp
The Highlands-Cashiers Health Foundation inargual grant award ceremony took place at Wildcat Cliffs Country Club in Highlands.

Since Mission Health’s sale to for-profit HCA, the six local legacy foundations have given out about $12 million in grants to 169 organizations. Let's take a deeper look at the foundations and the organizations they funded:  

In the great room of Wildcat Cliffs Country Club in Highlands, representatives from 26 organizations were welcomed by the Highlands-Cashiers Health Foundation: 

“Good evening, it’s such an honor to welcome you all to our inaugural grant awards.” 

Highlands-Cashiers Health Foundation was created after Mission Health’s $1.5 billion sale. It is one of six legacy foundations that changed from supporting local hospitals in the Mission system – in this case, the Highlands-Cashiers Hospital - to supporting the community. The legacy foundations are different from Dogwood Health Trust, which is tasked with distributing the profits of Mission Health’s sale. Highlands-Cashiers serves Western North Carolina’s five westernmost counties - Macon, Jackson, Swain, Graham, Clay and Cherokee, as well as the Qualla Boundary. The foundation gave out about $1.3 million dollars in its first grant cycle which focused on health, education and community.  


One of the recipients was the Clay County Health Department. Director Stephanie Johnson explains the $95,000 dollar grant they received will help local EMS get equipment to make their ambulances more accessible.  

“Looking at it from a health equity perspective it was a great way to beef up what we are able to do - especially in an emergency situation,” says Johnson.  

The Highlands-Cashiers Foundation (also known as HCHF) left the decision to share the funding totals up to each organization while Johnson shared the grant amount with BPR, six organizations were concerned it would violate the terms of the grant if they spoke with the media. 

For example, the Southwestern Community College received a grant for $70,000 for a new simulation mannequin for the Health Sciences programs. They sent out a press release at the end of September about the grant but then sent out this retraction: 

“It has come to our attention that the HCHF would like to regulate press related to their activities and do not wish to publicize their generosity at this time. If you have not yet ran this release but were planning to, we ask that you please do not run it until you receive a follow-up from us and the HCHF.”  

The Literacy Council a nonprofit in Highlands explained the same thing in a November email from a staffer: “We have been instructed not to disclose the grant amount until the Health Foundation gives us word, which we haven’t received yet. When or if they do end up giving us the go ahead to disclose the amount we will give you that info but for the time being we aren’t allowed to.”

Of the six legacy foundations that have given out funding, only the WNC Bridge Foundation - formerly Mission Health’s CarePartners - released the amounts that each organization received. WNC Bridge focuses on all 18 Western North Carolina counties and awarded $3.3 million to 44 organizations.

Credit Lilly Knoepp
Here's the breakdown of the organizations awarded grants by county. Click to enlarge and view all the data.

Meg White, grants and gifts officer at WNC Bridge explains the choice to disclose all numbers: 

“We want to be able to let the region know the work that we're doing,” says White, who explained that WNC Bride’s grant application was invitation only.White says it will be open to all in the future. 

Luke Howe, executive director of AMY Wellness Foundation, which focuses on Avery, Mitchell and Yancey counties shared his concerns:

“We've even told nonprofits, you know, again, if they would like to share their dollar amount, then that's fine,” says Howe.  “We just wouldn't want to put a nonprofit in an uncomfortable position if they were also seeking currently seeking funds from other funding sources.” 

The AMY Wellness Foundation foundation gave out $2.5 million to 17 organizations. Howe says the largest grant was $300,000 dollars with a $600,000 cap on asks.

Lori Bailey is executive director of Nantahala Health Foundation which is based in Macon County. Bailey says grants ranged from a few thousand dollars to over $200,000 dollars. 

“Will you all be sharing the specific grant amount for each organization?” 

“No, we do not have any plans for that at this time,” says Bailey. 

It’s not uncommon for nonprofits to keep grant funding to themselves says Brooks Fuller, director of The Sunshine Center at Elon University which focuses on government transparency. Since the legacy foundations aren’t governmental organizations they are not bound by public meeting laws explains Fuller. 

“No, a nonprofit is not necessarily required to disclose everything about its finances,” says Fuller. “But in this particular situation it seems like it is a good policy to be as open and honest with the people receiving health care in the Western part of the state as they possibly can. And I encourage them to do that.”

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein sanctioned the sale of Mission Health after adding in requirements to make sure the Dogwood Health Trust board was open and diverse.  

He says those rules don’t directly apply to the legacy foundations but he hopes that the groups are working transparently with the community and Dogwood Health Trust. 

 “The left hand needs to know what the right hand is doing. At the end of the day there are just not enough charitable dollars to address the pressing health issues in Western North Carolina. There just are not,” says Stein. 

The first round of grants awarded by the six legacy foundations wrapped up this week with an announcement from the Gateway Wellness Foundation, which serves Burke, McDowell, Polk, and Rutherford Counties.

Summaries for each organization are below. Here is a full list of all of the organizations funded.

Highlands-Cashiers Health Foundation 


Highlands-Cashiers Health Foundation formerly supported Highlands-Cashiers Hospital. Its mission is to improve WNC healthcare with a focus on the five westernmost counties and the Qualla Boundary. 

In its first grant cycle, Highlands-Cashiers gave out $1,287,260. This was announced in August 2019. The foundation focused on three social determinants of health. All but six organizations shared how much they were funded with Blue Ridge Public Radio. Highlands-Cashiers Health Foundations declined to share totals but did publically put out project summaries. 


Credit Lilly Knoepp

WNC Bridge Foundation 

WNC Bridge Foundation was formerly CarePartners supporting Mission Health in Asheville. The foundation continues to support some of its previous projects through Mountain Care. The foundation focuses on Mission Health’s 18-county region. Its first grant cycle was invitation only. The award of $3.3 million to 44 nonprofits were announced in October. The foundation focused on elder care, emergency wellness and youth development.  It has made all grant amounts public along with the project descriptions.  

Credit Lilly Knoepp

Nantahala Health Foundation 

The Nantahala Health Foundation was created to support the region covered by Angel Medical Center, which did not have a hospital foundation that the time of Mission Health’s sale to HCA Healthcare. The foundation supports the six westernmost counties and the Qualla Boundary. The foundation’s first almost $1.5 million grant cycle was announced in December. The organization shared the 27 projects and organizations that were funded but declined to share grant totals beyond the fact that amounts ranged from $2,000 to $200,000. The awards focused on healthcare, education, transportation, poverty and quality housing.

Credit Lilly Knoepp

Pisgah Health Foundation 


Pisgah Health Foundation was formerly the Transylvania Regional Hospital Foundation. Pisgah announced its first grant cycle in December 2019. Pisgah explained that the first grant cycle of just over $2.5 million to 46 organizations prioritized Henderson and Transylvania Counties but future grants will also cover Haywood, Madison, and Buncombe Counties.  Pisgah did not share specific amounts or funded projects. The foundation focused on food Insecurity, health, social cohesion, education and housing.

Credit Lilly Knoepp

AMY Wellness Foundation 

The AMY Wellness Foundation formerly supported Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine, NC. Now it supports Avery, Mitchell and Yancey counties. The foundation gave out $2.5 million dollars to 17 organizations.  AMY provided project summaries for each organization but did not disclose the amounts for each grant. The foundation focused on seven areas especially transportation and food insecurity.

Credit Lilly Knoepp

Gateway Wellness Foundation 

Gateway Wellness Foundationannounced today it has awarded $550,000 in grant funding to 20 local nonprofits. The Marion-based legacy foundation previously supported Mission Hospital McDowell and now supports Burke, McDowell, Polk and Rutherford Counties. Executive Director Neil Gurney clarified that nonprofits serving all four counties were funded although none were based in Polk County. Gurney says the foundation only received one application from Polk County. 

Credit Lilly Knoepp

Here is the full list of organizations funded by all six legacy foundations: 

2019 Legacy Foundations Grants Awarded

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.