City’s Memorial foundation to develop missions, goals

Colorado Springs’ new health foundation might take years to get off the ground, but it could create a legacy of health and wellness programs unparalleled in the state.

But it won’t be breaking new ground if it can follow in the footsteps of the state’s multi-billion-dollar health foundation.

The Colorado Health Foundation was formed in 1995 as the result of a venture that created the largest hospital system in Denver and left millions to the foundation, which makes grants to promote healthy lifestyles in schools and communities throughout the state. The foundation recently got a $1.4 billion influx of cash when it sold its interest in HealthONE hospitals.

Creating the foundation was one of the major selling points of the agreement to lease Memorial Hospital to University of Colorado Health. The first grants can’t happen yet, but the basic building blocks will be placed this year.

The city has called for volunteers to the local foundation’s board, and plans to have them in place by the end of February. That’s when work will begin, says Chris Melcher, city attorney.

“They’ll be charged with setting up the grant requirements,” Melcher said. “It’s going to be a busy year for them; there’s a lot of groundwork to be done. They’ll be setting up regulations, deciding criteria for making grants, deciding how to best go about the mission, what employees are needed, how to invest the money to make it grow.”

Melcher said the response was “encouraging.” They’ll go through the usual vetting process by human resources and the mayor’s office before final approval in front of City Council.

The new board won’t have much money to work with for a while. Most of the millions associated with the lease agreement are tied up.

The $259 million provided in the finalized lease with UCH to settle Memorial’s accounts with the Public Employees’ Retirement Association is being held in a court-supervised escrow account — pending settlement of a lawsuit by the city against PERA, set to be heard in October.

Other money is being held for a five-year period to settle any liability or other issues that might come up related to hospital operations at Memorial before UCH took over. Also, some $300 million went to pay off bonds, Melcher said.

“Of course, we believe we don’t owe PERA any additional money,” Melcher said, reiterating the city’s entrenched position. “If the judge agrees with us, that money will be included in the foundation’s budget.”

If the city wins the PERA suit, the local foundation could start giving out grants as early as January 2014. But it could take longer.

Under the rules set up by City Council, the foundation cannot give grants until its endowment reaches $100 million. Without a major windfall such as the money set aside for PERA, that could take up to five years. Currently, there’s about $24.7 million available for the foundation.

The Colorado Health Foundation, at one time called the HealthONE Alliance, first focused on making medical school education more affordable. Founded in 1995, it made $20.5 million in grants to health-related nonprofits and funded five medical school residency programs in 1999.

Since its early years, the Colorado Health Foundation has been focused on making a difference in health care professions and in the overall health of the state. In 2011, it spent $94 million in grants and scholarships throughout the state. The Colorado Springs foundation could have the same effect here in the city and the Pikes Peak region.

At least, that’s the goal, Melcher said.

“This is a great opportunity for the city,” he said. “But we’re still in the early stages right now — we’ve gotten off to a good start, but the heavy lifting is still ahead.”