Commonwealth Fund

The Commonwealth Fund
The Commonwealth Fund.svg
Founded1918 (1918)
FounderAnna Harkness
  • New York City
Key people
David Blumenthal, President
Endowment$700 million

The Commonwealth Fund is a private U.S. foundation whose stated purpose is to "promote a high-performing health care system that achieves better access, improved quality, and greater efficiency, particularly for society's most vulnerable, including low-income people, the uninsured, and people of color." It is active in a number of areas related to health care and health policy. It is led by David Blumenthal, M.D.[1]

Founding and early program history

The Commonwealth Fund, one of the first foundations to be established by a woman, was founded in 1918 with an endowment of almost $10 million by Anna M. Harkness. The widow of Stephen V. Harkness, a principal investor in Standard Oil, Mrs. Harkness wanted to “do something for the welfare of mankind.” Anna's son, Edward Stephen Harkness, became the Commonwealth Fund's first president and hired a staff of people to help him build the foundation. Edward Harkness possessed a "passionate commitment to social reform" and was "determined to improve health and health services for Americans."[2] Through additional gifts and bequests between 1918 and 1959, the Harkness family's total contribution to the fund's endowment amounted to more than $53 million. Today, the Commonwealth Fund's endowment stands at almost $700 million.

According to the Rockefeller Archive Center, the Commonwealth Fund's “early grants supported a variety of programs while generally promoting welfare, especially child welfare.”[3] Over the years, it has given support to medical schools and to the building of hospitals and clinics. In New York City, the Commonwealth Fund was a major contributor to the building of Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center of the College of Physicians and Surgeons and Presbyterian Hospital at Columbia University in 1922. By the mid-1920s the chief interest of the foundation had become public health, including mental hygiene, community health, rural hospitals, medical research, and medical education.[4] Other grant areas included war relief, educational and legal research, and international medical fellowships.[3]

In 1925, the Commonwealth Fund launched its international program of fellowships called the Commonwealth Fund Fellowships (now the Harkness Fellowships).[5] Until the 1990s, the fellowship was open to scholars of all academic disciplines, and included many who went on to excel in science, the arts and business.

From the late 1920s through the 1940s, the Commonwealth Fund supported the construction of rural hospitals, paving the way for the Hill-Burton Act in 1946.[6] Following World War II, the foundation supported the development of new medical schools in the United States in an effort to address doctor shortages and meet the needs of communities lacking health care services. Other achievements include the Rochester Regional Hospital Council and the development of the Nurse Practitioner and Physician Assistant professions.[7]

Child receiving rabies inoculation

In the 1940s, the fund supported research by Dr. Georgios Papanikolaou that pioneered the Pap test[8] as the basic technique for detecting cervical cancer. Refinement of cardiac catheterization into routine treatment resulted in a 1956 Nobel Prize[9] for the Fund-supported researchers.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, the organization focused on developing urban health care systems, and in the late 1970s, worked to improve medical school curricula. In the 1980s, the Commonwealth Fund played a prominent role in the development of the patient-centered care movement and helped draw attention to the needs of older Americans.

While the Commonwealth Fund does not typically accept donations, several gifts to the foundation have increased the endowment and expanded the scope of the Commonwealth Fund's projects and programs:

  • In 1986, Jean and Harvey Picker merged $15 million in assets of the James Picker Foundation with those of the Commonwealth Fund.
  • In 1996, the Commonwealth Fund received $1.7 million from the Health Services Improvement Fund with a mandate to use the funds to improve health care coverage, access, and quality in the New York City greater metropolitan region.
  • In 1999, Floriana Hogan left $100,000 to the fund, and Frances Cooke Macgregor contributed $3.1 million to the endowment in 2002.[10]
Notable early grantees and years funded[4]

Current leadership


The Commonwealth Fund's president is David Blumenthal, M.D. Blumenthal used to be the Samuel O. Thier Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Chief Health Information and Innovation Officer at Partners Healthcare System in Boston. From 2009 to 2011, Blumenthal served as the U.S. National Coordinator for Health Information Technology. Previously, he was a practicing primary care physician, director of the Institute for Health Policy, and professor of medicine and health policy at Massachusetts General Hospital/Partners Healthcare System and Harvard Medical School. He is a member of the Institute of Medicine and a former board member and national correspondent for the New England Journal of Medicine.

Executive vice president and chief operating officer

Kathleen Regan is the executive vice president and chief operating officer of the Commonwealth Fund. Ms. Regan also serves as the foundation's chief operating officer, chief financial officer, and corporate treasurer and secretary, and has oversight responsibility for the fund's investments. Regan became a venture partner at Radius Ventures, a venture capital fund focused on the life sciences and health care industry in 2010. She served as a senior advisor to the U.S. Department of State Global Health Initiative and led the development of a $200 million public-private partnership, Saving Mothers, Giving Life, to address maternal mortality in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2012.

The Commonwealth Fund Commission on a High-Performance Health System

Established in 2005, the commission was composed of experts and leaders representing every sector of health care, as well as the state and federal policy arenas, the business sector, and academia. After publishing a number of influential reports on health reform leading up to and following the passage of the Affordable Care Act, the commission concluded its activities in March 2013.


  1. ^ "David Blumenthal, M.D., M.P.P." Archived from the original on 2013-01-15. Retrieved 2013-01-11.
  2. ^ J. L. Fleishman, The Foundation: A Great American Secret: How Private Wealth Is Changing the World (New York, New York: PublicAffairs, 2007), p. 42.
  3. ^ a b "The Rockefeller Archive Center – Commonwealth Fund Archives, 1918–1988". Retrieved 2012-05-02.
  4. ^ a b "The Rockefeller Archive Center – Commonwealth Fund Archives, 1918–1988". Retrieved 2012-05-02.
  5. ^ "The Rockefeller Archive Center – Commonwealth Fund Archives, 1918–1988". Retrieved 2012-05-02.
  6. ^ "MEDICAL RESEARCH GETS LARGE GIFTS; Commonwealth Fund Reports That Benefactions in 1936 Totaled $1,967,153. BUILDS NEW HOSPITALS Large Share to Institutions in This City—Income Largest in Several Years. Gift Aids Study of Hospitals Scholarships to Physician". The New York Times. January 18, 1937. (subscription required)
  7. ^ Fleishman, J L (2007). The Foundation: A Great American Secret: How Private Wealth Is Changing the World. New York, New York: PublicAffairs. p. 217.
  8. ^ "Teams Up With a Foundation to Identify Extraordinary, Unorthodox Opportunities for Philanthropic Investment". InnoCentive. Archived from the original on 2011-07-02. Retrieved 2012-05-02.
  9. ^ "Dickinson W. Richards – Nobel Lecture". 1956-12-11. Retrieved 2012-05-02.
  10. ^ "Foundation History". The Commonwealth Fund. 2010-06-01. Archived from the original on 2009-06-15. Retrieved 2012-05-02.

External links

Media files used on this page

Child receiving rabies innoculation.png
Boy who was bitten by a dog receiving a rabies vaccine. He received the shot at a Commonwealth Fund-supported "Child Health Program" demonstration site in Rutherford, Tenn.
The Commonwealth Fund.svg

This is the logo for Commonwealth Fund.

Harkness House, 1908.jpg
Harkness House, on 1 East 75th Street, serves as The Commonwealth Fund's New York City headquarters. It was the Harkness family home and received landmark status in 1967.