What ever happened to philanthropy?

I’ve written about the constant needs and demands (not always one and the same) for more money to fund medical research and to foster true innovation in our modern medical establishment…

Another great irony of the academic-government-industrial medical complex is the very poor philanthropic investment being made in integrative medicine.

Billions and billions are given away by private foundations and by the government for medical and health “innovations.” But it’s ironic how “poor,” literally and figuratively, the support is for complementary/alternative medicine (CAM) and integrative medicine. An approach that offers the greatest hope for true, affordable innovation in health.

In the past, when the government and industry stood in the way of true reform, Americans were able to rely on the non-profit “philanthropic” world to lead efforts for true change.

One hundred years ago true philanthropists had transformed the American cultural, educational, social and medical landscape. But when philanthropists started having their wealth confiscated by the government through the “new” income tax after World War I, influence shifted. Private donors started protecting their wallets more.  The influence shifted to the government. And people then began looking to the government as the source of all that is seen to be good for the public.

And, unfortunately, it seems the modern philanthropic world has largely abdicated in terms of true healthcare reform. One problem is that the leadership once shown by foundations such as Carnegie, Ford, Morgan, Rockefeller, and Pew is now disseminated down among rafts of middle-management, non-profit bureaucrats and careerist “experts” in the “non-profit world.”

I have met with almost all  of them over the past 30 years. And I can honestly say that you can’t tell the difference anymore between most of these foundations and some of the more useless government agencies (except they have nicer furniture and better artwork on the walls).

And when it comes to true healthcare reform, they just don’t get it.

The Gates Foundation today has worldwide reach. But they seem to think that all the world’s medical problems can be solved by plunking a computer in front of everyone and exporting high-tech western technology. Virtually ignoring the affordable and safe traditional medicine and healing that is happening all around them.  

There are a few notable exceptions of course, such as the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation with their Clinical Investigators program whose scholars have worked to uncover the truth (such as the Great Salt Scam). This notable foundation was funded by the family that started Johnson & Johnson (and also today owns the New York Jets—one of the NFL teams I helped to get hydrated with the Miracle at Red Bush). The Johnson Foundation has not been content to just hand out Band-Aids.

My personal favorite foundation is the Henry Luce Foundation. Although their primary mission is not at all in healthcare, they have been sending graduate and medical students to Asia for 30 years where we were exposed to some of the miraculous benefits of Asian healing traditions. Many of these influential scholars have brought these lessons back to the U.S. and have since been working to influence education, medicine, and public health as a  healthy byproduct of the Luce program..

But in my experience, for the most part, today’s philanthropic “collaboratives” and wealthy individuals in support of CAM are merely looking for opportunities to “make a statement.” (And usually on the cheap relative to their wealth.) Or simply to ensure their own direct access not only to mainstream experts, but the best of alternative practitioners as well. Which does little for the actual advancement of CAM and modern medicine overall.

Here’s just one example. There was one member of such a “philanthropic” collaborative that partially contributed the costs towards moving a successful and growing CAM clinic into a shiny new space at a leading hospital (and then promptly named it after his family). You’d think moving it front and center would help. But of course all it managed to do was make the economics of it all impossible, since these clinics were now expected to continue to offer low-cost therapies in a very high-cost setting. Then, they put more time and money into repeating endless business “management studies” so that CAM practitioners, already operating on a shoe-string compared to hospital budgets, could continue doing more with less. I  guarantee you the focus in these situations, and their host institutions, is anything but moving complementary/alternative medicine forward.

I could go on and on with examples. But ultimately what it comes down to is this: “philanthropy” either done on the “cheap,” or rooted in self-interests. Barely providing enough to do anything meaningful in the very expensive world of medical education, research, and practice. Just like the tiny trickle of government funding (at the insistence of Congress against the grain of the lifelong NIH bureaucrats) and the limited efforts to provide “elective” courses on CAM in medical schools.

We still spend 99 % of our medical treasure on repeating the mistakes of the past, and just barely scratching along on the cheap, when it comes to true healthcare reform. And now the Affordable Care Act appears to have simply “re-arranged the deck chairs” on the sinking ship of modern medicine.

As the French would say, sauve qui peut—every man for himself.  But don’t look to these “philanthropists” for the life vests. The only lives they save will be their own.