Uniquely Bold: Ruth Riedel’s Impact on AHF
Uniquely Bold: Alliance Healthcare Foundation’s Founding Executive
Ruth Lyn Riedel, Ph.D. (12/01/1941 – 09/01/2023)
We may all strive for it, but not all of us are able to leave this world having made a lasting and profound impact and legacy the way Ruth Riedel was able to. To Alliance Healthcare Foundation (AHF), Ruth was our Founding President & CEO for 19 years (1988-2008). To San Diego County, she was the force behind more than $100 million of cumulative charitable dollars that have been supportive to many organizations over more than 34 years serving thousands of people in our regional community to this day. You see, if not for Ruth’s bold leadership and guidance in the early days when AHF became an endowed private foundation, this social impact would not have been possible.
Prior to AHF becoming an endowed foundation, it was known as the San Diego Employers’ Healthcare Coalition, which was made up of most of the major employers in San Diego. The Coalition recruited additional members from the five key stakeholders in the health system—employers, labor organizations, physicians, hospitals, and insurers—to join a collaborative effort to reduce costs, improve quality and increase accessibility to care in San Diego.
The founders, Nancy Plaxico and Sandy Foote, incorporated the Coalition as a non-profit organization naming it San Diego Community Healthcare Alliance and recruited a Board of Directors with equal representation of the five stakeholder groups. Shortly thereafter, they hired the first Executive Director, Ruth Riedel, Ph.D., who would go on to leverage her years of executive experience in large, national foundations (including Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation), regional foundations, state mental health facilities and other nonprofits, and lead the Alliance through its development as an organization aimed at decreasing costs, improving quality and increasing access to healthcare.
“Ruth was very businesslike, but warm and sensitive to others, both at the organization and personal level. She was extremely ethical and very politically astute in terms of getting disparate groups to work together,” said Joe Ramsdell, M.D. (one of AHF’s original founding board members and currently longest serving Trustee). (In the photo at the top with the CCN check, Ramsdell is fourth from the left, next to Ruth Riedel.)
1982-1989: First Preferred Provider Organization in the U.S.
Through the Alliance’s creativity and determination, along with new legislature that enabled Medi-Cal to contract selectively with healthcare providers, Alliance decided to leverage this new legislation and develop a Preferred Provider Organization (PPO) in San Diego. Initial funding for this innovative PPO concept came from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in the form of a planning grant. With grant in hand, Alliance became a national pioneer in PPO development.
“Ruth was able to create the ‘foundation of the Foundation,’ in terms of its relationship with the San Diego community in general and the County in particular,” continued Ramsdell.
The Alliance named its PPO “Community Care Network (CCN).” It was a unique preferred provider healthcare system and the first of its kind in the nation, designed with enough flexibility to serve self-insured employers, labor union trust funds, group health insurers, workers’ compensation payers, school districts and other government entities.
1989-1994: Alliance Healthcare Foundation was Created
From the annual profits of CCN, the Alliance developed and funded Alliance Healthcare Foundation (AHF). However, it wasn’t until the sale of CCN during 1994-1997, that AHF became a major grantmaking foundation for the San Diego and Imperial County region. CCN was sold to Value Health, a national healthcare company. Alliance channeled all its proceeds from CCN’s sale into an endowment of $83 million for AHF, which has allowed AHF to continue its important work to this day.
From its inception, “being bold” has been a backbone value of AHF’s mission to advance health equity in San Diego and Imperial counties through strategic grantmaking, impact investing, catalyzing innovation, community collaboration and advocacy.
“Ruth was a vocal advocate for the underserved and marginalized populations and she took unpopular positions (in her time) to promote AIDS funding, clean needle exchange, and access to healthcare for vulnerable populations, including undocumented children,” shared Elizabeth Dreicer, AHF Trustee.
“I recall fondly spending an evening with Ruth at a clean needle exchange mobile clinic where we observed all types of people from all demographics get care and exchange needles. We both learned a lot and were moved by the experience,” continued Dreicer.
Ruth’s bold leadership and impact on important social issues attracted new board members
“I joined the board during the post-internet bubble financial crisis when AHF’s assets were in the process of shrinking by 50% ($127M to $64M). Despite what was going on, Ruth’s reputation was a major draw for me. She recognized the decision-making independence of AHF as a private foundation. And, in support of AHF’s mission, she used this independence to support politically toxic programs such as clean needle exchange and the HIV consortium. As the organization’s value was inexorably declining (the investments were illiquid) Ruth made extremely difficult personnel decisions that preserved core AHF intellectual assets. I doubt she had ever faced such a difficult and terrible task. Her actions helped preserve AHF’s ability to go forward. This was not a guaranteed outcome,” shared Robert McCray, J.D., AHF Trustee.
After 19 years as President and CEO of Alliance Healthcare Foundation, Ruth left AHF in 2008 to use her experience through private consulting to benefit other organizations that are dedicated to advocacy and the delivery of services to underserved populations.
In her own words from her LinkedIn profile, Ruth self-describes as a “Senior Executive who has served as CEO, executive director or deputy director of large, national foundation programs, regional foundations, state mental health facilities and other nonprofits. Additional experience in research and teaching at the graduate level as well as three years in private consulting. Energetic and conscientious practitioner with a strong client focus, skilled in communicating at all organizational levels. Equally effective as an individual contributor/consultant, team member or executive.”
But she was so much more to so many people
Her family and friends will continue to celebrate her life and contributions. For Alliance Healthcare Foundation, Ruth had a profound impact on our development, growth, mission, and contributions as a grantmaker, catalyst, and advocator for underserved populations. We are forever grateful to you, Ruth.
Shared by one of our Trustees:
“The work of the mature person is to carry sorrow in one hand and gratitude in the other and to be stretched large by them. How much sorrow can I hold? That’s how much gratitude I can give. If I carry only grief, I’ll bend toward cynicism and despair. If I have only gratitude, I’ll become saccharine and won’t develop much compassion for other people’s suffering. Grief keeps the heart fluid and soft, which helps make compassion possible.”—Francis Weller, Psychotherapist.
For more history on Alliance Healthcare Foundation, click here.