Group Health Foundation was created using the proceeds from Kaiser Permanente’s acquisition of Group Health Cooperative, with the goal of carrying on Group Health’s legacy of social impact. Porsche Everson, who served on Group Health Cooperative’s board for nine years and is one of four continuity members on Group Health Foundation’s board, shares insights on the formation and early days of the Foundation and how it’s shaped by Group Health Cooperative’s legacy.
Q: What did you learn from your experience serving on the Group Health Cooperative board that you’ve brought to Group Health Foundation?
A: Group Health Cooperative had a bold vision: to revolutionize how medical care is provided to improve health and well-being. That same spirit is rooted in Group Health Foundation, and we aim for the Foundation to have a similar, substantial impact on health equity in Washington.
At Group Health Cooperative, the way that members, staff, volunteers, and providers were all engaged in guiding and making decisions was truly special. And that’s connected to the way Group Health Foundation now focuses on involving community members and creating an equitable environment.
Q: What are steps you took in the early formation of Group Health Foundation to ensure the legacy of Group Health Cooperative was carried forward?
A: As we were contemplating the transaction with Kaiser Permanente, we drafted some early principles to reflect our values of working with people in communities; reducing health inequities; and cooperating, learning, and sharing what we know. We took time with the new board to strengthen these principles into founding values. One board member, for instance, encouraged us to incorporate seven-generation thinking into our values – to really consider the impact and legacy of our decisions.
Another example is the board. We wanted the new board to reflect the communities and people of Washington State. We invested time to look beyond our initial networks to find people who had the talent, perspective, and experience of Washington’s diverse communities.
Q: What are ways you see Group Health Cooperative’s legacy integrated into Group Health Foundation today?
A: At Group Health Cooperative, we often talked about going slow together so we could go far together. I see us following that same path at Group Health Foundation. We’re being deliberate and thoughtful in our process. We’re taking time to learn and understand the community’s needs and vision and to engage community members in learning together. A recent example is the small grants program we did to gain wisdom and knowledge from community organizations about effective ways to involve communities in addressing social determinants of health.
I also see Group Health Cooperative’s legacy in the Foundation’s commitment to tackling root causes. We’re dedicated to wrestling with challenging problems, using our voice to advocate, and taking a bold stand so that everyone has opportunity to live a healthy life.
Q: As you reflect on the startup of Group Health Foundation, what are things you are most proud of?
A: I’m both proud of and humbled by the grace, strength, and talent that every single person – staff, board, and even contractors – is giving to this new foundation. We’ve had deep and challenging conversations as we’re trying to address intractable problems, like homelessness, drug addiction, or systemic racism that affect health. We don’t presume to have the answers, wouldn’t say we are even close. But, we’re committed to working together and working with others to learn, to lean in, to really keep the conversation going so that we can change the underlying structures that create inequities in health.
Q: On a more personal note, how did growing up in poverty shape your perspective and your work with Group Health Foundation?
A: I grew up without access to health care – it was a luxury we couldn’t afford. I remember in 5th grade I broke my arm, and I was sick with worry because my mom had to miss work and take me to the doctor. It pained me that my mom had to take on additional work on top of her regular job to pay off the medical expenses.
It wasn’t until I got my first job out of college that I had the opportunity to enroll in a health care program. Growing up in a rural community, I knew about and understood the value of cooperatives – from credit unions and feed cooperatives – and so I chose Group Health Cooperative. It was my first significant exposure to health care.
I never knew about the value of that security of health care until I had it. What that perspective gives me is that I know what it’s like to not have health care. I know what it’s like to cut pills in half to make them last longer. And so, when I had the chance to get involved in the leadership of Group Health Cooperative, it was a wonderful way for me to give back and bring my experience to help shape the future.
I’m thankful to be one of the continuity board members to carry on the mission and values of Group Health Cooperative in the new foundation. I am so grateful to see everyone involved hold fast to the values of equity and social justice – and to living those values in everything we do.