By Jenny Neyman
Ed Krohn has nothing against a good spaghetti feed, nor any of the other usual attempts to help a neighbor in need when fighting an illness — donation cans in businesses, quilt raffles at churches or car washes in parking lots, hoping to raise money in $10 or $20 increments to lessen the financial burden a serious condition can cause.
He’s gone through that process firsthand. When one of his employees at Kenai Auto was diagnosed with cancer in 2001, Krohn was one of the ones with a donation can in his office, taking in checks and cash to help the family in its difficult time. He was moved by individuals’ generosity, but even more so by the greater needs he saw in the community affecting more than just one patient here, one type of illness there, and needing a more coordinated, holistic approach.
“As our hospital grew and became bigger and did more long-term treatment here, it became obvious that there were more needs — not everything was being taken care of, and some people just don’t have the money to come up with,” he said.
Medical bills alone are staggering — medications, hospital stays, tests, doctor fees, procedures — the list goes on and on, and may or may not be fully or partially covered by insurance. And the costs of a serious illness go far beyond the medical. Often there are transportation and lodging expenses, the purchase of special equipment and supplies, plus all the bills of regular living that still need to be paid, even if patients miss work because of their health condition.
Krohn saw that people on the central peninsula were generous and willing to help their friends, family, neighbors or even complete strangers in their community, but that there wasn’t a coordinated, efficient, large-scale way to do so.
“People doing fundraisers, funds may or may not get to the right place, and may or may not be enough to pay for things. It became apparent that there may be a better way to put those things together and get them to the people who needed them,” Krohn said.
In the mid-2000s, as borough voters had approved an expansion to Central Peninsula General Hospital, Krohn and his friend, then CPGH CEO David Gilbreath, started talking about a way to help meet the additional needs that would come along with the additional services the hospital would now offer.
“Now we’re on this road to getting bigger and better and nicer and trying to find some way to help people who are going to get treated here, but for some reason can’t take care of everything” — like cancer patients who need special medication not fully covered by their insurance, or people who can’t pay their rent while undergoing treatment, or need a wig after chemotherapy, and on and on, he said.
They investigated the idea of establishing a private nonprofit foundation that would work in conjunction with the hospital but be legally and financially separate. The first community meeting drew about 25 interested community members. Hospital attorneys drew up bylaws and prepared paperwork, and Krohn found the requisite six people to sign the articles of incorporation to make it official — Dolly Farnsworth, Marge Mullen, Sky Carver, Chuck Obendorf and Krohn.
With that, in 2006, the Central Peninsula Health Foundation was formed and began fundraising. Since then, more than $2 million has been channeled through the foundation, every cent of it being distributed on the central peninsula.
“All the money goes right back into the community, to people in need in health care,” Krohn said.
The foundation has grown considerably in terms of money raised and types of needs met. Currently the foundation supports 30 different funds, as well as overseeing expenditures of unrestricted funds for needs that come up beyond the scope of the currently established funds. Some funds are fairly familiar in the community, such as the Way Out Women Cancer Patient Support Fund, with the annual W.O.W. snowmachine ride in the Caribou Hills raising money to support local people undergoing cancer treatment. SafeKids of the Kenai Peninsula operates several well-used programs in the community, such as offering free child car seat safety checks, providing kids’ life jackets at boat launches, and teaching snowmachining and water safety to kids.
There are other funds that few but those directly donating to or benefiting from have probably ever heard of. One is the Animal Assistance Fund, which sets up boarding for animals whose caretakers are hospitalized at CPH. Another is the LifeGuard Memorial Fund, set up by donations from employees after a LifeMed helicopter crashed in 2007. The fund pays for anything the helicopter crews stationed at CPH may need, particularly purchasing safety and rescue gear.
Beyond all that, anything donated to the unrestricted fund can support any other needs that invariably crop up, which aren’t already addressed by the established funds.
“We buy wheelchairs to give to the volunteers at the hospital for people to use, we’ve paid to put together a CD for training new parents. All sorts of things,” he said.
And since the foundation is private, it can accept donations more easily that the actual hospital, owned by the borough, could do — such as will bequests, or land donations.
As needs in the community grow, so, too, do ways to help. Recently, The Fitness Place held a pushup-a-thon fundraiser for the Prostate Cancer Fund.
“There’s some real stories in there. A lot of people are becoming more and more involved in it, it’s a growing thing,” Krohn said.
The newest development for the foundation is the Written in Stone project, which invites community members to come write messages of support and encouragement on the cement vault that will hold the linear accelerator in the new radiation oncology clinic being built at the hospital, and to produce a book with all the messages that can be given to patients. The foundation has been a driver of increasing cancer care services at the hospital.
“We’ve been a big push behind chemotherapy oncology, as well as getting this radiation here, so people don’t have to drive through mountain passes for a 15-minute treatment. Healing with your support group with you is a lot easier than doing it when you’re stressed or running back and forth to Anchorage or Seattle or wherever,” Krohn said.
The Written in Stone project fits right in with the foundation’s mission to “support central peninsula residents by seeking innovative partnerships and creating resources for the health and wellness of our communities.”
It maybe doesn’t sound simple with managing all the different funds, but the idea’s simple — people want to give to help people in their community. We hold those funds and distribute the money where it’s needed, and it works, plain and simple,” Krohn said.
For more information on the foundation, visit http://www.givingheals.org.