Celebrating Our Healthcare Heroes

A Conversation with Former Board Chair Mary Ellen Smith

Healthcare Foundation has its origins in 2001 when a group of community members rallied together to save their local hospital. Among them were Dick and Mary Ellen Smith—originally a New Yorker and an Angeleno, respectively, who permanently relocated from San Francisco to their Healdsburg home in 2000. Dick was a recently retired investment banker, and Mary Ellen a fashion industry businesswoman. But they had a strong personal connection as well: In 1997, Healdsburg Hospital had saved Mary Ellen’s life.

By 2006, Kay Reed had recruited Mary Ellen for the board of the Healthcare Foundation. In 2008, she was elected board president, two years into a capital campaign that would ultimately raise some $14 million in pledges to keep the hospital open.

“What I most admire about what the Foundation has done since I left is that they have brought the focus back to the community…quickly recognizing what the community needs are and responding to those needs.”

Dick and Mary Ellen Smith

“We started originally just wanting to make sure we still had a hospital,” explains Mary Ellen in a recent phone conversation. “That’s when we started becoming donors. And then it evolved over the years. My time on the board, it’s one of the things I’m most proud of, perhaps in my whole life, the work I did there.”

“What I most admire about what the Foundation has done since I left [is that] they have brought the focus back to the community,” says Mary Ellen, “which is where I think the younger demographic and the younger donors have a greater interest. Particularly in the focus on mental health. There aren’t enough doctors. There aren’t enough therapists. And mental health issues are so severe, particularly after the pandemic. I know, as well, that they were extremely involved in getting out into the community and supporting Reach for Home, supporting the homeless population. They are also active in getting people vaccinated. I think these are the things that are important now: quickly recognizing what the community needs are and responding to those needs.”

That community spirit is part of what has made northern Sonoma County home for the Smiths.

“People here care about each other,” says Mary Ellen. “We’ve been here now for 30 years. We’ve met just amazing people who care about their neighbors and want to take care of them. The work that the Foundation is doing, the commitment, speaks to the generosity that’s here. It’s the most wonderful community I’ve ever lived in.”

Healthcare Heroes are donors who make three-year annual commitments of any amount in support of the Healthcare Foundation’s vision of eliminating health inequities in northern Sonoma County. Since 2016, the combined pledges of our Healthcare Heroes have put over $840,000 to work in our region. With increased funding provided through the Healthcare Hero program, the Foundation can further expand its grant support to frontline nonprofit organizations working to support equitable access to healthcare and mental health services. You can join our Healthcare Heroes or renew your commitment by going here.

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