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For decades, many of SSM’s local hospitals have had an associated foundation, a group led by a volunteer board that raises money to improve facilities and programs.

But gone are the days of marrying a charitable foundation to nearly every SSM hospital in the region.

Instead, Creve Coeur-based SSM Health is deliberately constructing a larger, more influential philanthropic entity to serve the entire region.

Over the years, it became apparent that having a foundation repeated at nearly every hospital was an inefficient model, said Candace Jennings, president of hospital operations for SSM in St. Louis. SSM operates eight hospitals in the St. Louis region.

“In the past we could literally have individual hospital foundations competing amongst one another for support. It was counterproductive,” said Steve Smith, the inaugural board chairman for SSM’s new foundation.

SSM recently consolidated its five boards into one and has made a key hire to instill a more strategic focus for the Catholic health system’s philanthropic mission. 

The foundation is in the middle of filling out the 24-member board, and so far the 13 individuals who have been chosen are drawing up the long-term plan.

The only SSM hospital in the area not affected by the change is Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital, which will retain its own foundation, hospital officials said.

One of the three main aims of the foundation will be to raise funds to improve behavioral health in the region. The other priorities will be to invest in ongoing education for nurses and staff and also to continue to raise money for capital projects, such as the new SSM St. Louis University Hospital. The foundation is looking to raise $25 million to put toward the construction project that is now underway.

It’s the charitable funds from the hospitals’ foundations that allow for certain programs, Jennings said. Without them, they would have to forgo certain activities that ultimately improve patient care, she said.

For example, SSM is able to hire social workers to help assist lower-income patients navigate the health care system. The social workers help with everything from filling out financial aid documents to scheduling rides to medical appointments. Without that funding from the foundation, the hospital would not be able to support the initiative, Jennings said.

Amelia Bond, president and CEO of the St. Louis Community Foundation, said consolidation makes sense. “You look like you don’t know what you’re doing when you’re asking the same person eight different ways (to donate),” she said.

“Donors want to give to their passion and their interest and that can mean a lot of different things. By being broader and whether it’s by region or by hospital, their message can adapt to each donor’s passion and interest.”

To lead the foundation, SSM made a key hire. The organization brought on Paul Ross to serve as vice president of philanthropy and to oversee the foundation and its direction.

Prior to SSM, Ross led fundraising for various colleges within the University of Missouri-Columbia.

“I’m at the interchange of helping donors turn their money into meaningful impact,” Ross said.

With SSM acquiring St. Louis University Hospital, it now allows donors to support academic medical research.

One shift Ross wants to see is the foundation’s ability to motivate individuals to give it money.

Historically, nearly 70 percent of funding has come from corporate sponsors.

Ross said the group will retain a few key large events, but for the most part, the foundation will turn away from large events to smaller and more intimate gatherings to get individuals connected with SSM’s mission.

“We think this consolidation gives us the best of both worlds. We still have very local community-oriented relationships ... but we also have the consolidated foundation to go after grants and other foundations more effectively and efficiently,” Smith said.

Editor's note: Clarifies that the Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital foundation will remain separate.

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Samantha Liss • 314-340-8017

@samanthann on Twitter

sliss@post-dispatch.com