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Ruth Riedel's Boldness: the Key to Alliance Healthcare Foundation's Success
Ruth Riedel, third from the left
From the Alliance Healthcare Foundation Blog
We may all strive for it, but not all of us are able to leave this world having made a lasting and profound impact and legacy. Ruth Riedel did.
Ruth passed away on Sept. 1, 2023 having spent 19 years at the helm of the Alliance Healthcare Foundation. She was 81.
Ruth was the Alliance Healthcare Foundation’s founding president and CEO for 19 years, from 1988 to 2008. To San Diego County, she was the force behind more than $100 million in charitable dollars that have been supportive of many organizations, serving thousands of people to this day. If not for Ruth’s bold leadership and guidance in the early days when the Alliance Healthcare Foundation became an endowed private foundation, this social impact would not have been possible.
“Ruth was very businesslike, but warm and sensitive to others, both at the organization and personal level,” said Dr. Joe Ramsdell, one of the Alliance Healthcare Foundation’s original board members and longest serving trustee. “She was extremely ethical and very politically astute in terms of getting disparate groups to work together.”
The Early 1980s
Prior to the Alliance Healthcare Foundation becoming an endowed foundation, it was known as the San Diego Employers' Healthcare Coalition, which was made up of most of the major employers in San Diego. The coalition recruited additional members from the five key stakeholders in the health system— employers, labor organizations, physicians, hospitals, and insurers — to join a collaborative effort to reduce costs, improve quality and increase accessibility to healthcare in San Diego.
The foundbers, Nancy Plaxico and Sandy Foote, incorporated the coalition as a nonprofit organization and named it the San Diego Community Healthcare Alliance. Ruth Riedel, Ph.D., was hired as executive director. Ruth leveraged her years of executive experience in such large, national foundations as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, regional foundations, state mental health facilities and other nonprofits to help develop Alliance. Ruth led the Alliance through its development as an organization with the goals of decreasing costs, improving quality and increasing access to healthcare.
First Preferred Provider Organization in U.S.
Through the Alliance’s creativity and determination, along with new legislation that enabled Medi-Cal to contract selectively with healthcare providers, the Alliance decided to leverage this new legislation and develop a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) in San Diego. Initial funding for this innovative PPO concept came from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in the form of a planning grant. With grant in hand, Alliance became a national pioneer in PPO development.
“Ruth was able to create the ‘foundation of the foundation,’ in terms of its relationship with the San Diego community in general and the County in particular,” Ramsdell said.
The Alliance named its PPO “Community Care Network.” It was designed with enough flexibility to serve self-insured employers, labor union trust funds, group health insurers, workers’ compensation payers, school districts and other government entities.
Alliance Healthcare Foundation Is Created
From the annual profits of the Community Care Network, the Alliance developed and funded the Alliance Healthcare Foundation. However, it wasn’t until the sale of the Community Care Network that the Alliance Healthcare Foundation became a major grantmaking foundation for the San Diego County and Imperial County region. The Community Care Network was sold to Value Health, a national healthcare company. Alliance channeled its proceeds from the Community Care Network’s sale into an endowment of $83 million for the Alliance Healthcare Foundation, which has allowed it to continue its important work to this day.
From its inception, “being bold” has been a backbone value of the Alliance Healthcare Foundation’s mission to advance health equity in the region through strategic grantmaking, impact investing, catalyzing innovation, community collaboration and advocacy.
“Ruth was a vocal advocate for the underserved and marginalized populations and she took unpopular positions (in her time) to promote AIDS funding, clean needle exchanges, and access to healthcare for vulnerable populations, including undocumented children,” said Elizabeth Dreicer, a foundation trustee.
“I recall fondly spending an evening with Ruth at a clean needle exchange mobile clinic where we observed all types of people from all demographics get care and exchange needles, Dreicer said. We both learned a lot and were moved by the experience.”
Ruth's Bold Leadership Attracts New Board Members
“I joined the board during the post-internet bubble financial crisis when the Alliance Healthcare Foundation’s assets were in the process of shrinking by 50 percent ($127 million to $64 million), said Robert McCray, JD, foundation trustee. “Despite what was going on, Ruth’s reputation was a major draw for me. She recognized the decision-making independence of Alliance as a private foundation. And, in support of the mission, she used this independence to back politically toxic programs such as clean-needle exchanges and the HIV consortium. As the organization’s value was inexorably declining (the investments were illiquid), Ruth made extremely difficult personnel decisions that preserved core AHF intellectual assets. I doubt she had ever faced such a difficult and terrible task. Her actions helped preserve AHF’s ability to go forward. This was not a guaranteed outcome.”
She Meant So Much to So Many
Ruth’s family and friends will continue to celebrate her life and contributions. For the Alliance Healthcare Foundation, Ruth had a profound impact on its development, growth, mission, and contributions as a grant-maker, catalyst, and advocator for underserved populations. We are forever grateful to you, Ruth.
For more history on Alliance Healthcare Foundation, click here.