From the President

“We need to develop a ‘health care’ system which will be recognized as distinct from ‘medical care.’ This is a real key to solving our medical problem.”

 

It sounds rather mundane or obvious, no? What if I told you these are the words of the leading health philanthropist Julius S. Rippel… from the 1960s? Surprised?

It can be tempting to think that America’s health and health care woes are unique to today. And while it’s true that new threats have emerged in response to our changing times, today’s leaders face some of the same fundamental challenges as those many decades ago. This, despite untold billions of dollars in new policies, proposals, and pilot programs. There have been advances in medical research, technology, electronics, and financial tools; yet costs continue to soar, huge disparities abound, and Americans’ health status pales in comparison to that of healthier residents of other developed countries. We should be light years ahead by now.

The Rippel Foundation was founded in 1953 by New Jersey banker Julius S. (J.S.) Rippel, designed to address what he and his wife, Fannie, deemed to be the most pressing health concerns of the day: cancer, heart disease, women, the elderly, and hospitals. J.S., however, was remarkably forward-thinking. He knew that the needs would change, and his will stipulated that the Foundation’s focus and approach must adapt alongside them.

This spirit was brought to life by his nephew, Julius A. Rippel, who presided as President for the Foundation’s first 30 years. We can read the history of the Foundation through his annual letters to the Board—written between 1953 and 1983—in which he suggested what Board members should consider if they were serious about the use of its precious resources.

Julius A. argued that the health system as designed was unsustainable, that society needed to focus on keeping people healthy and alter the way doctors and nurses are trained to ensure they function as coordinated teams. He posed questions about what a hospital is and who it serves; he asked whether there are alternatives that work better; and he advocated that we embrace alternative medicine and mental health as parts of a fuller system.

An impressive and complex man, Julius A. was an observer of the world whose thinking was beyond his time. He set the tone for the Foundation and charged us to do more. The Rippel Foundation today is focused on the long-term goal of transforming our health ecosystem through a three-part strategy that encompasses:

  • targeted research and development projects;
  • partnerships with others that involve exploration, experimentation, deep engagement, and learning; and
  • influence.

We see the challenge as a system challenge, and the solution a system solution. In our place-based work, we acknowledge the power and importance of local culture and regional differences. As a result, our focus is on processes, lessons, and tools for local self-determination, not cookie-cutter solutions. In our research and development as well as our influence efforts, we are collaborating with our peer organizations and foundations, policy makers, corporations, and communities to develop and spread new answers to age-old problems.

We measure our impact by how our work shapes the thinking, actions, and successes of others. That’s why we have committed to such initiatives as ReThink Health and FORESIGHT: Designing the Future for Health. It is why we take a leadership role in the Convening of Catalysts and participate actively in the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Population Health Roundtable. It’s why we have developed the ReThink Health System Dynamics Model and continue to invest in internal research and development efforts to learn more about engagement, sustainable financing, high impact portfolios, complex negotiations, and more.

These commitments signal our dedication to accelerating transformation in the field as a whole–not only focusing on a particular region, issue, or disease. We are at a pivotal moment of revolution, not unlike the scientific and industrial revolution of 100 years ago when daring philanthropists such as Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller redefined modern medicine. We can learn from such leaders, and from our own, Julius S. and Julius A.

With changing populations, unpredictable employment patterns, the effects of technology and globalization, and more, the solutions of yesterday will not solve the problems of today and tomorrow. Over the last 10 years, the Rippel Foundation has grown from a four-person grant-making institution to employ a team today of 40 staff and contractors in a diverse portfolio of active initiatives. We are in this for the long term because that is what it will take: through persistence and adaptation—virtues at the heart of this Foundation—we will meet today’s challenges head on.