Affiliating with the University of Michigan Health System nearly two years ago gave Metro Health a partner to grow and become a larger player in the West Michigan health care market.
As well, the connection now has started to provide Metro Health a boost philanthropically.
One example is Metro Health’s annual gala held at the end of September. This year, the event raised a record of more than $870,000 for support services for oncology patients, an amount that easily beat the $750,000 record the gala raised the previous year toward child life services.
Jennifer Wilson, director of the Metro Health Hospital Foundation, attributes the year-to-year increase in part to the affiliation with U-M, which has energized a donor base and physicians who “have really rallied in their support for the hospital, and that support has impacted the foundation.”
“The brand has certainly elevated the foundation and the hospital in the community,” said Wilson, who’s led the Metro Health Hospital Foundation for three years.
“That big ‘M’ on our business cards and on our buildings, representing the University of Michigan through the affiliation here in West Michigan, has really shone the light on philanthropy at Metro Health,” Wilson said. “We’re definitely having more conversations in the community with donors and prospective donors.”
Metro Health became part of the Ann Arbor-based U-M Health System in January 2017. The affiliation enabled Metro Health to begin expanding specialty medical services, such as a new women’s health center that will open in December at Cascade Road and I-96.
Since the affiliation, University of Michigan alumni — or people who have an affinity for the university, whether through athletics or for another reason — have regularly approached Wilson to tell her they “are so happy to see that ‘M’ in West Michigan.”
“I hear that almost every day in the work the foundation does and how great it is to see the Block M in West Michigan,” she said.
That connection with the university has translated into “some additional annual gifts to the foundation where people are proud to support Metro because of the big M,” and a “little bit” into attracting new donors, Wilson said.
As the affiliation with U-M Health System moves beyond its early stages and as Metro expands specialty care, Wilson expects a further uptick in philanthropy.
“As the University of Michigan and Metro Health really develop this affiliation even further, the community is going to see some awesome disruptors in health care here that shows the value of care at Metro Health,” she said. “I think that will equate into some significant dollars for the foundation to support really important service lines this community needs and wants.”
The Metro Health Hospital Foundation works to support the care provided by the Wyoming-based health system. As of June 2017, the foundation had total assets of $15.5 million, according to its most recent annual financial report filed with the Internal Revenue Service.
That’s up from $13.8 million in assets at the end of the 2016 fiscal year, an increase Wilson attributes to new staff coming on board in late 2015 and implementing new fundraising strategies.
The foundation in 2017 awarded more than $583,000 in grants.
Currently, the foundation is raising money for a $4 million endowment for child life services, $2 million for a permanent location for the farmer’s market in front of the main hospital in Wyoming, and for a special care nursery. An upcoming drive is planned to help fund a new helipad.
The foundation has reached out to the U-M alumni club in West Michigan to begin building ties, Wilson said. In the future, she hopes to have the ability to quantify “in significant dollars” how the affiliation affects philanthropy at Metro Health, which recently added a new position over the foundation.
Greg Meyer joined Metro Health in late October as its chief community officer. He oversees philanthropy, community relations and diversity at the health system.
Meyer previously worked as vice president of association advancement for the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids, where he oversaw fundraising and marketing. While there, he increased all giving to the YMCA by 21 percent and major gifts by 27 percent.
Before the YMCA, he was vice president and executive director of the Aquinas College Foundation, and earlier spent seven years at the University of Michigan as a regional director of major and planned giving.
Meyer, who earned his undergraduate degree from U-M in 1977, views the position at Metro Health as a way to better connect Grand Rapids and West Michigan with the university.
“I thought it would be fun to be part of that team. It would be fun to see how we could impact West Michigan using the University of Michigan,” Meyer said. “It was long overdue that Michigan had a presence here.”
The affiliation with Metro Health provides West Michigan benefactors to the University of Michigan with a vehicle to give locally, Meyer said.
Even a donation that goes to Ann Arbor can potentially have a local impact through the health system, he said.
“It works both ways,” Meyer said. “Even if they’re giving to research in Ann Arbor, that research is ultimately going to have benefits in West Michigan through Metro Health.”