Board Chair’s Message 2024

William N. Werner, MD, MPH
William N. Werner, MD, MPH Board Chair, Washington Square Health Foundation


As a premed student in chemistry class, catalyst meant a substance that enables a chemical reaction to proceed at a faster rate or under different conditions. As chair of the Washington Square Health Foundation, catalyst has also come to mean to me an action or support that precipitates or accelerates a positive change or event in healthcare.

I believe Washington Square, through its grant making activity and low interest loans (Program Related Investments), functions as a catalyst for positive change in Chicago area healthcare. The mission of Washington Square Health Foundation is to “fund grants in order to promote and maintain adequate healthcare for all the people of the Chicagoland area regardless of race, sex, creed or financial need.”

Early on the Foundation’s Board and leadership recognized that no one foundation can meet all the challenges of today’s healthcare environment. By developing a philosophy and methodology of grant making the Foundation intends to be both a catalyst and example for other foundations and grant making entities while also attempting to meet the healthcare needs of our community.

One criterion I use in evaluating a grant request is “what is the greatest good for the greatest number.” Hence, consideration in a grant request is how many patients or clients will be served in a year. This helps the staff, Grant Committee and the Board decide “what is the bang for the buck” for the dollars being requested. It also supports the fiduciary obligation of the Board for responsible stewardship.

I am often asked what type of grant requests does the Foundation fund? There is a broad spectrum represented from supporting direct healthcare services with an emphasis on primary care, mental health, medical and nursing education, healthcare research, and fostering collaboration among healthcare providers. The Board also recognizes that, despite healthcare reform initiatives, there are gaps, especially for uninsured, underinsured and underserved populations. The Foundation has highlighted “cracks” in the healthcare system as part of our Board development education.

A unique service of Washington Square is Program Related Investments (PRI). PRIs are below market, low interest loans to qualifying healthcare organizations. PRIs can be used to fund major building projects, capital equipment or system improvements such electronic medical records. A more detailed explanation of the PRIs offered is on the Foundation’s web site.

In chemistry class, it was often exciting and instructive to observe when chemical reactions were enhanced by a catalyst. I find it equally gratifying when Washington Square can act as catalyst in improving healthcare.

William N. Werner, MD, MPH, FACP
Board Chair