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Press Release: MHCF Names First President & CEO

Health News, Foundation Updates

Bozeman, Mont – Aaron Wernham, MD, MS, has been named the first President and CEO of the Montana Healthcare Foundation. The Foundation will make grants to improve the health and well being of all Montanans largely by strengthening public health services and increasing the quality and accessibility of healthcare services across the state.

Wernham has extensive experience providing healthcare in rural Alaska and leading public health and grant making initiatives. Most recently, Wernham founded and directed the Health Impact Project, a collaboration between the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and The Pew Charitable Trusts, two of the largest non-profits dedicated to improving the nation’s health.

“Aaron has just the balance of background and experience we were seeking in our first CEO,” said Denis Prager, chairman of the foundation’s Board of Trustees. “He is passionate about improving health and healthcare throughout Montana and brings a deep commitment to under served populations including Native Americans.”

And that’s just what Wernham is looking forward to.

“The Montana Healthcare Foundation presents an important new opportunity to address Montana’s health needs,” said Wernham. “I am honored to be chosen for this position.”

Wernham believes that effective grant making must be grounded in a strong relationship between the foundation and the communities—and their individuals and families—the foundation serves. “I am looking forward to traveling around the state and learning about the health and healthcare challenges facing Montanans and how the Foundation might help address those challenges,” said Wernham.

The Montana Healthcare Foundation came into existence in 2013 following the sale of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Montana to a private healthcare company. By state law, when such a “conversion” takes place, assets accrued by the previously nonprofit health insurance company are transferred to a charitable trust for the benefit of the public. It is estimated that the Montana Healthcare Foundation will ultimately make about $7 million in grants annually, although it will only make grants of $1 million the first year. Plans for first-year grant making by the Foundation will be announced before the end of the year.

Wernham began work for the Bozeman-based organization on October 1, 2014. In addition to establishing the Foundation’s operational infrastructure, he will be working with the Board of Trustees to finalize plans for grants for the Foundation’s first year and to develop a funding strategy for the next several years. As part of that effort, Wernham will travel around the state meeting with community leaders and Native American tribes to learn about their health priorities.

About Dr. Aaron Wernham

Aaron Wernham is a family practice physician. He received his medical degree from the University of California, San Francisco and is board certified in family medicine. He served as clinical faculty in a University of California, Davis family practice residency program. In addition, Wernham has a master’s degree in health and medical sciences from the University of California, Berkeley. Prior to assuming the responsibility as CEO of the Montana Healthcare Foundation, Wernham was director of the Health Impact Project of the Pew Charitable Trusts. Wernham also served as a senior policy analyst with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium.