Columbia Health System preserves women’s health legacy with GMF funds

Columbia Health System’s legacy of caring for local women, children and families will live forever through a philanthropic partnership with the Greater Milwaukee Foundation. With a $3 million gift, the system has established two endowed funds at the Foundation that will grow and serve the community for generations to come.

The Columbia Health System Endowment Fund for Women’s Health will invest in research, education and direct services related to women’s health and social well-being across the lifespan in Milwaukee and Ozaukee counties. The Foundation will administer the $2.75 million fund through its competitive grants process, supporting work that includes:

  • Preconception/family planning/adolescent health
  • Maternal health
  • Mental health and substance abuse services
  • Medical screenings, services and treatment
  • Domestic abuse services
  • Research innovations in women’s health care delivery

The Columbia Health System Endowment for The Family Enrichment Center of Ozaukee, Inc. will provide annual support for the Grafton-based nonprofit to direct toward greatest need. The fund was created with an initial $250,000 investment.

Preserving the past by supporting the future

For nearly two decades, Candy Casey served as president and CEO of Columbia Health System, a small but dynamic organization that made the difficult decision to cease operations in 2018.

“I’m very proud of the success we achieved,” she said. “Staff retention was very high. Patients appreciated us, and we appreciated our patients. We could be very creative and innovative.”

Columbia Health System’s roots stretch back to 1909 with the founding of the nonsectarian Columbia Hospital, whose contributions to medical research included the development of the “Milwaukee Brace” to treat scoliosis and the origins of the Milwaukee Blood Center, now Versiti. Columbia Health System later became a co-sponsor with Ascension Health of Columbia St. Mary’s. Following the closure of Columbia Hospital, Columbia Center Birth Hospital moved to the CSM Ozaukee Campus, and continued to provide birthing services until its closure in July 2018. That deep history helped inspire this year’s philanthropic gift.

“We wanted to leave a legacy for Columbia Hospital and for the community we served in Ozaukee County,” Casey said. “We had $3 million to provide to our community and selected the Greater Milwaukee Foundation to establish two endowment funds to continue to make a positive impact for women and families.”

This month, the Foundation is releasing a request for proposals supporting healthy birth outcomes, and the Columbia Health System Endowment Fund for Women’s Health is expected to be a key source of funding.

Supporting families and nonprofits

The Family Enrichment Center (FEC) is unique to Ozaukee County, providing a state-of-the-art facility and shared services for a host of nonprofit organizations. Columbia Center Birth Hospital supported the FEC for the past 10 years as part of its efforts to give back to the community.

On any given day at the FEC, you might find older adults receiving transportation services from Interfaith Caregivers of Ozaukee or see volunteers from Big Brothers Big Sisters of Ozaukee preparing for a big event, like the Berry Big Run/Walk for the Kids held in June. Other FEC agency partners include Advocates of Ozaukee, Alzheimer’s Association, COPE Services, Energy Services, Habitat for Humanity Ozaukee, Independence First, Mel’s Charities and Ozaukee Family Service.

“This most generous endowment from Columbia Health System will not only assist the FEC with ongoing support but also establish an investment vehicle with the Greater Milwaukee Foundation to help grow our vision,” said Board President Jonah Turner. “We look forward to creating a more efficient, collaborative, and service experience for our agency partners, local community and volunteers.”

The FEC is expected to receive its first distribution from the designated fund before year’s end.

“The dedication to the care of women and families that defined Columbia Health System throughout its presence in Milwaukee and Ozaukee Counties is now secure for all time,” said Ellen Gilligan, president and CEO of the Foundation. “Not only is this gift a great tribute to the thousands of babies born and the countless families who received care through the years, the Foundation will ensure these new endowments support programs that improve community health far into the future.”


Individual, corporate and foundation donors are welcome to contribute to the Columbia Health System Endowment Fund for Women’s Health and the Columbia Health System Endowment for The Family Enrichment Center of Ozaukee, Inc. to grow their impact.

Contact: Kristen Mekemson at (414) 336-7065 or