Dogwood Health Trust CEO Chiang makes Buncombe debut

Antony Chiang with Yvette Singleton
FACE TO FACE: Antony Chiang, the Dogwood Health Trust's recently hired CEO, asks Yvette Singleton with the Asheville Buncombe Institute of Parity Achievement about her highest priority for his organization. Photo by Daniel Walton

The Dogwood Health Trust received hundreds of questions in the run-up to its October community engagement meetings, the first chance members of the public have had to engage in person with new CEO Antony Chiang. But 90% of those queries, Chiang said during an Oct. 10 event at the Mission Health/A-B Tech Conference Center, could be boiled down into two themes: “When are you funding and are you going to fund in my area?”

Both questions were understandable, Chiang said. DHT, the foundation spun out of the roughly $1.5 billion acquisition of nonprofit Mission Health by for-profit, Nashville-based HCA Healthcare, will be one of the nation’s largest sources of per-capita charitable funding. And its purpose, “to dramatically improve the health and well-being of all people and communities of Western North Carolina,” offers much room for interpretation.

Regarding the first query, Chiang said the DHT has targeted fall 2020 for its first round of grant disbursements, a date it’s been sharing repeatedly over the past six months. “When you keep hearing the question over and over again after the answer’s given — I had a mentor who said, ‘Basically, when that happens, it means they don’t like the answer,’” he added, to laughter from the audience of roughly 290 people.

Although the foundation’s main grants will likely stay on that timeline, Chiang said, DHT leaders have been exploring a “flexible fund” that would provide grant writing and technical support for partner nonprofits. Such an approach would leverage Dogwood’s resources for good more quickly, he explained, while still allowing the organization time to complete its strategic plan.

Line of people waiting to speak with Antony Chiang
MAN OF THE HOUR: Attendees at the Oct. 10 Dogwood Health Trust public meeting wait to speak with Antony Chiang, the organization’s new CEO, second from left. Photo by Daniel Walton

That plan will inform the answer to the community’s other pressing question, Dogwood’s focus areas under the broad umbrella of social determinants of health. Chiang led the audience in an exercise to provide input on those priorities, asking attendees to write down the three quantitative measures of success — “dream numbers” — they most wanted the foundation to influence.

According to DHT staff who grouped those metrics into general categories, the most common concern was educational attainment, followed by health care access, housing, healthy food and substance use and addiction. Chiang noted that audience priorities were significantly different at the foundation’s other listening sessions in the more rural communities of Marion and Sylva; he said a full report on the results would be posted online within the next few weeks.

Chiang also sought the audience’s opinion on the one Dogwood initiative announced to date: $25 million in spending over five years to support the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services in fighting WNC’s opioid crisis. When he asked the crowd how many communities that funding should reach, the vast majority said some should go to all 18 counties and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

However, Chiang suggested, spreading resources too thin could fail to achieve the foundation’s goal of dramatically improving health metrics. Splitting $5 million annually 19 ways, he pointed out, equated to just over $263,000 per community. “How’s that sounding per county and tribe to radically do systems change and move the needle on addiction and opioid deaths?” he asked. “This is the type of thing that we’ll be grappling with.”

Speaking during public comment at the end of the event, one attendee noted that Chiang’s example had helped her better understand the challenges DHT will face in stewarding its resources. “I came in with a certain mindset, but because of this meeting, I’m leaving with a greater appreciation for what you have to do,” she said. “It ain’t easy.”


Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Assistant Editor of Mountain Xpress, regularly contributing to coverage of Western North Carolina's government, environment and health care. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.