Community health is vital to not only public but individual well-being, and the Legacy Foundation of Southeast Arizona’s grants to and work with various local programs has been helping Cochise and eastern Santa Cruz County become healthier and happier communities since 2013.

As the five-year CEO of the Legacy Foundation of Southeast Arizona, Margaret Hepburn has distinguished herself as a champion of positive change and improvement through her leadership in helping create the foundation and realize the community’s longtime dream of building a new hospital in Sierra Vista.

The Herald/Review sat down with Hepburn to get to know the community leader and the Legacy Foundation’s mission a little better.

Herald/Review: Where did you grow up, and how did it bring you to Sierra Vista?

Margaret Hepburn: I was born and raised in Dundee, Scotland. My husband and I had three children, all in Scotland, and then we came here on vacation, I had a brother in Southern California and a sister in Northern California, and we came out on vacation and decided that we needed to move to America. That’s how we came; we came out here originally to Southern California. I first of all worked at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, and we spent some time in Texas and then Louisiana and then back to north-central California and then to Arizona.

H/R: Whereabout in Texas?

MH: In East Texas, in Beaumont. I actually lived in Beaumont and lived in Port Arthur. And then in Louisiana we lived in a little town called Lecompte, I worked in Alexandria in a large hospital.

H/R: It sounds like you did a lot of health-related jobs as you moved around, which is probably what led you here with this health program, so what is it that draws you to this field?

MH: So my background is nursing. I did my baccalaureate degree in Scotland, and then came here and worked as a staff nurse for a little while, then went into leadership positions. I was the director of an ER in Eisenhower for nine years, and then went into nursing administration first, and continued that into Texas, then became a COO in LA and then a CEO in California and in Arizona here, at Sierra Vista Regional Health Center.

H/R: I understand you were there at the Regional Health Center for a while before coming to Legacy?

MH: Yeah, we actually — and I don’t think you want the whole story of how we came to be the Legacy Foundation, so I’ll give you the real short version.

H/R: Actually, we do want most of the story.

MH: So, when I was hired to Sierra Vista Regional Health Center, one of the goals the board set for me was to get a replacement hospital. Sierra Vista Regional Health Center was built many years ago and needed to be replaced. So that was a goal the board set for me. Over the course of the next few years, we explored various partnerships that could maybe bring us to a new hospital but none of them really met that goal, until we met with Regional Care Hospital Partners. So the board — a very visionary board — they wanted to make sure that it wasn’t just a promise of a new hospital, but the money was in the bank at the time of the transition to get a new hospital. So, Regional Care proposed a deal, which is a 40-year prepaid lease, and that money from the prepayment of the lease was the funding for the new hospital. Now, because Sierra Vista Regional Health Center was a not-for-profit organization and Regional Care Hospital Partners was a for-profit organization, it was a lot of surplus funds left that had belonged to Sierra Vista Regional Health Center. They could not be used by the for-profit organization, so that money formed the corpus of the Legacy Foundation.

Then, during that whole process as we were developing the partnership, the board needed somebody to start off the foundation. It was a job I thought I would be doing for maybe a couple of years, and discovered a new career for myself and really enjoyed the not-for-profit world, and have been doing that ever since 2013.

H/R: You were talking about how the “corpus money” for this foundation came about, and one of the Legacy Foundation’s biggest things is its grants. Is that the money you use for the grants?

MH: Yes, yes. Actually, for clarity, the money, the corpus, was money the Sierra Vista Regional Health Center had, it was money we had invested and cash that we had on hand, that was what formed the foundation. That money was completely separate from RCHP, that was just the money that was left. So yes, that’s exactly what we use for our donations. To date, we have donated more than $6 million to Cochise County and eastern Santa Cruz, our service areas. Eastern Santa Cruz all the way up to Sonoita, and all of Cochise County. The reason the Legacy Foundation chose that as service area is because that was our service area when we were Sierra Vista Regional Health Center, so that’s where the money came from, is from the patients in the service area.

H/R: That’s $6 million since when?

MH: So, the Legacy Foundation actually began in 2013, but we did not begin doing grants until 2015, so 2015.

And then in addition to that grant money, we donated the old hospital building to Cochise College, and they use that now as the downtown campus, and for their health sciences, which is a great use of the hospital. And the value of that was about $8 million.

H/R: Was that an outright donation?

MH: It was just a donation. They actually wanted to build a new health sciences building and JD [Rottweiler], the president, and I were chatting one day, and we concluded that maybe that would be a good thing, for the Legacy Foundation to donate that to the college! And they’ve done just a phenomenal job of renovating it inside, it’s beautiful.

H/R: When you’re giving out the grants, what are you looking for? What’s your criteria?

MH: So our mission at the Legacy Foundation is in the area ... (walks away to get brochure) ... you can see it there, our mission is “promoting population health and community wellness,” so any grants need to be in that area. And we offer different grants. The first grant of the calendar year is our responsive grants; these are grants up to $5,000, and these are just small grants to help organizations build capacity within their organization, and that just finished for us last month.

Currently, we’re in what we call an “innovative grant” cycle, and these are larger grants, up to $50,000 over two years, if the organization needs it, so a maximum of $100,000, and these are to provide grants to new ideas for an organization, so it can be a completely new idea that they’ve come up with, or just an improvement in the way they’re delivering gservices right now. So a lot of opportunity for organizations to try something just a little bit different.

In our innovative grant cycle, by the way, last year we had requests for right about $2.1 million and we had budgeted, I think, about $600,000, so it’s a very competitive process.

And then our strategic grants are our much larger grants, these are for major projects for organizations. Last year, for example, we awarded two million dollars over a three year period to the University of Arizona extension for work in the area of obesity and healthy living.

So that’s the three main grants, and we also offer an emergency funding, so if an organization is having some kind of emergency like a roof leak, or their van has broken down, something that is impeding their ability to carry on their business, then we can help fund that for them as well.

And then the last thing we do is our Fast Pitch award, and that is $2,500 for an individual within and org to be awarded that money for education, normally a conference or something like that they might want to go to. Or, last year we expanded it to include technology, so if they needed new computers. So that’s basically our different grants we offer.

H/R: Do you have a limit on those Fast Pitch grants?

MH: We do, and I think last year we gave 15 people Fast Pitch awards, and that was the maximum we had budgeted.

H/R: And how many applicants did you have?

MH: It was probably 70 percent approval, and there was probably about 30% that were denied; I think roughly that’s what it was.

H/R: What kind of criteria were you looking at there for those? Just basically what you described?

MH: Yes, yeah! If they wanted to replace computers in their organization, or buy some software to improve their operations, they could do that. But mostly, we’ve been encouraging them to build capacity within their organization, you know, to allow them to go and have a conference, or to bring a speaker in if they wanted to do that, and have multiple employees hear that individual.

H/R: Of [all the types of] those [grants], what are some of the — whether for you personally or for the Legacy Foundation — what are some of the ones you’re most proud of?

MH: Gosh, you know —I’ll tell you what, I knew you were going to ask me that question! And, I don’t know, as I’ve looked through all the grants, it’s in excess of six million dollars, and there’s so many! And some of them were small grants—less than $5000 but made a huge impact in the organization in that area, I think some of the food banks getting $4000 from the Legacy Foundation made the difference between them keeping their doors open and having to close, so there’s that. Obviously, the big grant to U of A extension, we’re anticipating that that’s going to be highly successful and make a big difference in the community. I think as you drive down Wilcox and see the Salvation Army, that was our very first grant, and I always mention that whenever I’m doing any sort of presentations, because that was our first grant, and it was the cap gift, in the community at the time when the Salvation Army was raising money to replace their facility, and they came to us—we were just newly formed—and asked if we could help them out, and they needed a few hundred thousand dollars to finish the job, and we were able to do that. But honestly, all of the grants we’ve given, the difference they can make in the community is just amazing.

H/R: How does that impact you, personally? Everybody likes to be able to take pride in their job and enjoy what they’re doing every day, but I would assume that you get a certain amount of personal satisfaction about being involved with a foundation like this ...

MH: Yeah, absolutely! And my background, as you know, has been in healthcare my entire life. So the goals that you set in healthcare, although the theme is the same, health and wellness, the goals are completely different, and quite honestly, when I started this foundation, I had very little idea about not-for-profit organizations in the community, just peripherally how they impacted the hospital environment. But as I learned about the not-for-profits, you know, the staffs there are so hard working in the not-for-profit environment, they work long hours, they have limited staff, they just do amazing work. So, frankly, just about anything we do that helps that out makes me feel pretty darn good.

I’ll also highlight for me, when I started doing this, that the gaps in the resources, you know—I come from a country where they have socialized medicine, so all the social services are pretty comprehensive, and you know everything is provided. That’s not necessarily the case here. If we didn’t have our not-for-profit organizations, sure enough the gaps that are left would be, some people would be in some trouble.

So yeah, I really enjoy them all. I think it’s great to be able to help, and build a little bit of capacity. I think one of the things that make us feel really good is when the NFPs start to work together; one of our values here is collaborations, and when we see duplication being reduced in the community and organizations working together—because we’re not just a philanthropic organization, when we started that’s really what we thought we were going to be, but we have now included a lot of education, technical assistance to orgs that helps them grow capacity and make them be more successful in what it is they do.

So we renovated the building next door [to the Legacy FoundationSA building on El Camino Real] which we call our Outreach Center, the Olson (Olsen?) Building, and we offer that building space free of charge as a large classroom that can seat, I believe, up to fifty people, and a couple of smaller classrooms. That’s offered for NFPs for their use for board meetings, a meeting room, education … We also offer a monthly networking session for all of the NFPs, also free, and we bring in a speaker normally on a topic we’ll put out for them.

H/R: Talking about your whole purpose of the Legacy Foundation “promoting public health and community wellness,” what exactly does it mean by community wellness, what are some specific examples of projects you’ve done?

MH: A good example of community wellness would be exactly that grant I mentioned to you before that we awarded to the U of A extension, the $2 million grant to focus on the area of obesity, and healthy eating and exercise, etcetera. So, instead of affecting a single individual, if you will, you’re looking at a whole population and communities of people. So all of our grants that we issue are about how we can impact different populations in the community, whether it’s in the area of food — we’ve issued many grants in the area of food, to assist access to food for folks in poverty, or educating people ...

H/R: ... You’re talking about food deserts and things like that?

MH: Yep, food deserts; and we had a partnership with the Community Foundation in Tucson, we gave them a grant of I think $500,000 to assist them in providing services that were needed in Cochise County. So, population health is exactly that. It’s about specific populations out there who have a need of some kind. It could be children and oral health; it could be remote populations that we funded Chiricahua clinics, for example, providing mobile transportation to take services to communities that can’t get into the city for the services, so we take the services to the patient. So it’s a focus on groups of people as opposed to individuals.

H/R: With something like that, are you talking about helping set up programs that are, rather than just a one-time thing, are you talking about helping groups set up ongoing, sustained programs?

MH: Correct, correct. We’ve funded—you’ve seen the mobile bus drive around for Chiricahua clinics? We funded one for them, and that’s on an ongoing basis. And that bus, when it was put into action, was going to remote areas that had never had services before, and that’s really important. Cochise County is a huge county with a lot of rural areas so, you know, you can’t expect everybody to be able to get to the city for their services, so taking the services to them is much more effective.

H/R: What is one important takeaway you’d like our community to know about the Legacy Foundation?

MH: Well, I think the broad message probably would be that, through this partnership with RCHP, and specifically through the vision of the board of trustees of Sierra Vista Regional Health Center, there was a partnership that was developed that really produced three huge contributions to Sierra Vista. One was Canyon Vista Medical Center, and I think that was a needed resource and it’s just amazing to have that. Second was the Legacy Foundation, that has this very large corpus that can continue on in perpetuity to support the community and really do great community works. And the third thing was the donation of Sierra Vista Regional Health Center to Cochise College, that produced that downtown campus that is able to serve people, again, for many many years to come, and train them in the areas that Sierra Vista Regional Health Center was built for, and that is health and wellness, their health sciences. And that would be the message.

H/R: So a lot of people in the community may not have a thorough understanding but they see the Legacy Foundation granted this much money to so-and-so. A lot of people might think, “Oh, what an easy job they must have, they sit back with this pile of money and give money to whoever they want!” Obviously, that’s not how that works; what are some challenges you run up against that people may not realize?

MH: So I would say the biggest challenge, honestly, is in the decision making about who gets the grant. We have a budget every year, and for each of the grant cycles, there’s certainly a budget. We always get requests way in excess of how much we have budgeted. In fact, every year we have increased the budget to try and meet the demands of the community. I would say for the board and for the staff, that’s the biggest challenge, and we spend a tremendous amount of time reviewing grants and trying to be good stewards of our resources here and at the same time help as many organizations as we possibly can. And that’s very time consuming to do that. I’d say that’s the biggest challenge, and looking to the future and trying to decide what exactly is it that the Legacy Foundation can do that will have the biggest impact in the community? We take the responsibility of this money pretty seriously, and we want to be, as I say, good stewards and do the right thing. And that’s the biggest challenge. We also try and visualize—we just got done with a retreat last week, and just trying to visualize what the Legacy Foundation will be in the future, maybe even beyond philanthropy, what non-philanthropic role is there for the Legacy Foundation in the community going forward.

H/R: What are some of the visions for the future of the Legacy Foundation?

MH: I think one of the things you may have heard of from the health department, is the community health improvement plan. That was a very large study that was done a couple of years ago, and from that study there were three areas essentially that were identified as requiring a focus from the community and health department. One was the area of food and nutrition; second one was jobs and the economy; and the third one was mental health. So one of the things that Legacy Foundation board and staff are trying to do is to be aligned with other organizations, so we want to make sure that when we’re funding orgs out there that we’re aligned with this community health improvement plan that has been developed, and that’s why we came up with a U of A extension grant last year in the area of food.

Now, the next area — and this is incredibly needed, I think — is a focus on mental health. There are good mental health services in SV and Cochise County, but there are gaps, and the Legacy Foundation wants to look to see how maybe we can help (short up? short off? Maybe shore up? 27:53) these gaps. So mental health I think will be a focus as well.

H/R: We talked about how it must feel good to grant some of this money, and then you talked about one of the challenges being deciding how to distribute that. Explain the process and staff and people involved in the decision-making process.

MH: Well there’s four staff: there’s myself; and there’s Barbara who’s our administrative assistant; there’s Betty Smith, our grants manager; and Susan—you saw her when you came in—she’s our receptionist and our data clerk. Specifically, though, for the grant cycle, what happens is the grants all come in, it’s done electronically, and Becky and I review all the grants and do a first pass to make sure that the grants actually meet our mission statement, that they’re in line with our mission for the Legacy Foundation. And from there we have a philanthropy committee that’s made up of board members, and they review all the grants, and then they make a recommendation to the full board for their decision. That process takes three months, four months sometimes, three to four months to go through, through the time the applications come until they are either approved or denied. We call every organization, whoever applies to us we contact them and let them know if they’ve been approved, and if they have not been approved, why they were not approved. Many times — I was just doing a workshop with some organizations this morning and I told them that it’s not that it’s not a great project you’ve got or your organization’s not super, but there’s a limited amount of funding, so we choose the ones that are best aligned with our mission.

But that’s our process, it’s a long process that we go through, and as I said we have a super board who are very engaged and very interested in doing a thorough review.

H/R: How many board members do you have?

MH: Thirteen.

H/R: Is that a solid number or does it vary?

MH: No, I think between 11 and 15. We’ve been at 13 for a little while.

H/R: Now, the relationship with the hospital currently, they’re in the midst of a 40-year lease, but what does that relationship look like outside of that? Is it an ongoing partnership?

MH: Mm hmm, so it’s a 40-year lease, and so at the end of that lease the hospital will revert back to the Legacy Foundation, and then they’ll have to decide what they want to do with it at that point and time; presumably, they’ll have decided long before the forty years what’s gonna happen! But on an ongoing basis, I meet with the CEO of the hospital every month, and the board chair of the hospital and the board chair of the Legacy Foundation and the two CEOs every three months, just to compare notes and update one another. Occasionally I go to their board meetings to give an update and occasionally their CEO comes to our board meetings. A key thing, I think, with the relationship, when this partnership was put together, one of the main things that Sierra Vista Regional Health Center bought at the time wanted to be sure that the services provided on an ongoing basis at Canyon Vista would be at least comparable with the ones going on at the old hospital, and to that end, there were some covenants that were written that keep the two boards talking to one another. So if RC or Sierra Vista Regional Health Center wants to eliminate a service, then the Legacy Foundation board is very involved in that. In fact, (the foundation board) gives approval for the discontinuance of a service. And that was planned. It was planned that way so that the services would be protected in the community on an ongoing basis. The Sierra Vista Regional Health Center was actually a pretty good concern, so when we went out to get requests for proposals, we had 15 systems and organizations that were interested in purchasing or doing a joint venture or some other deal because it was a pretty good organization. But we chose RC, the board chose RC because they were prepared to allow that connection to continue between the two boards, and the services maintained in the community.

H/R: This is a very community-centered health and wellness program, so for your everyday individual citizen, is there any advice you would give for how they can promote community or personal wellness in their lives? Especially on a smaller scale than organizing a grant or such.

MH: Yeah, there’s a number of seminars or conferences, many of them are free, that individuals can go to, to help educate on health and wellness. The county Health Department has a lot of literature on good nutrition and diet and healthy living and that kind of thing. The college here offers various programs as well. In fact, if you go online, you can get some super information about how to stay well and fit.

And, I should have said when I mentioned Susan, talking about everybody’s role here, Susan, who sits up front, on our webpage we have an area called Resource Guide, and that was what Susan was hired to do, was to keep this. We have the best resource guide, the most up-to-date on in Cochise County. In there are all kinds of resources, if you want to look for services on education, or senior services, or services for the handicapped, or just about anything you can think about, you just go into that resource guide and click on the area that’s of interest to you and up will pop all the resources in that particular area; and that’s what Susan does, that’s her job.

H/R: Say somebody reads about Legacy and says, “Legacy Foundation is a great organization, I really want to get behind that,” what can people do to support the foundation, financially or otherwise?

MH: So they can certainly give us a call, and we can see if there’s some way to get them involved in our activities. I would also say to go to the webpage because it’s a great webpage that has lots of resources for people, tells all of our grant cycles—in fact, everything that I’ve really talked to you about today is on that webpage, it’s a pretty comprehensive source for information. So, they can go there and hear hear all about it!

H/R: So, what about Margaret Hepburn, what’s, or when—

MH: When am I going to retire? laughs

H/R: Well I wasn’t going to ask that! No, But how much longer do you expect to be with the Legacy Foundation?

MH: You know, I don’t know. When I started, I was going to do it for two years to get them up and running, I said I’ll do that for two years. I’ve enjoyed it so much that I decided just I’m playing it by ear.

H/R: Well it seems like you have the energy for it!

MH: And that’s what I said, one day I’ll wake up and I’m going to say, “Mmm, it’s time to retire.” But I’m really enjoying it, it gives me a tremendous amount of personal satisfaction, this work. And I loved my job as CEO at the hospital too, that was my life, I spent my entire career in hospitals, and I really enjoyed that. But this was really an eye-opener for me, for the needs of the community.

H/R: When that day does come, do you plan to stay here in the Sierra Vista area?

MH: We live in Sonoita, and my husband actually has raised horses for many years, so we live in the country with our horses. We love Sonoita, it’s really a nice location up there. That’s one of our very serious considerations to staying put.

H/R: So where are your kids now? Are they still in California?

MH: I have one in Texas, and one in Palm Springs. We have grandkids in San Diego. We unfortunately lost our youngest son 10, actually 12, years ago to a drunk driver down in San Diego. So he has two kids and his wife is in San Diego. So California, I mean we lived in California for a really long time and really enjoyed it there, but I don’t think we’d go back.

H/R: Yeah, it’s a nice place to visit, sure.

MH: (California is) not really an option. But we like Sonoita. So it’s definitely, definitely right up there.

H/R: Is there anything we’ve missed that you feel the community needs to know about the Legacy Foundation or anything going on at the hospital?

MH: I don’t think so, I think that’s probably it. We’re really pleased the board of Sierra Vista Regional Health Center continued on with the Legacy Foundation, and most of these board members now have since termed off because they’ve served their 12 years, but the hospital is definitely, the building of Canyon Vista Medical Center is definitely the highlight of my career, it is really, we’re really proud of it and proud of the way it’s functioning now.

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