Apr 17, 2020

Steve Heath Has Been the Go-To-Guy for Nonprofits for Decades

A chat with a local boy who not only made good but does good

By Ed Goldman

While Steve Heath has held a number of top administrative jobs in nonprofits and healthcare, he says that collecting the broken baseball bats of the great San Francisco Giants first baseman Willie McCovey and other baseball luminaries remains his career highlight. He did this when he was 11.

Almost a month ago, and several decades later, Heath became the executive director and entire paid staff of the Central California Hemophilia Foundation, the organization created 49 years ago to serve the needs of people with (usually) inherited bleeding disorders. The foundation—which is a chapter of a similarly named national organization and is also affiliated with an international one serving the same cause—has a 27-county service area running inland from Madera to the Oregon border. Another chapter covers the coastal counties.

Steve Heath photo by John Swentkowsky

Heath says that approximately 50,000 people within his sphere of influence suffer from three conditions that inhibit a person’s body from clotting blood (which is necessary if you sustain a cut or other injury since it helps stop the bleeding): hemophilia, Von Williebrand disease (the most common hereditary blood-clotting disorder, though it sounds like the name of a long-gone German chancellor) and Glanzmann’s Thrombasthenia (which is not only the rarest of the three but also, I think you’ll agree, the hardest to spell and pronounce).

While Heath is a genial former sportswriter for both the Sacramento Bee and the late Sacramento Union, his reputation as a nonprofit administrator is noteworthy for his efficacy and prolificity (those two words will be easy to pronounce once you’ve mastered “thrombasthenia”). 

He was the top guy at Capitol Health Network, where after two-and-a-half years his focus was on helping it to DIS-incorporate, “which is harder to do than incorporating a new nonprofit,” he says. He was president and chief executive officer of Community Link Capital Region (also no more, but not his fault), as well as the regional chapter of United Way California, where he ran the show for nine years. 

Prior to those engagements, Heath was a vice president of Sutter Health as well as the Blue Cross/Blue Shield association. 

“I think what’s helped me land these jobs,” he says, “is essentially my experience both in the nonprofit and healthcare worlds. I have a firsthand understanding of how they both work and how they overlap.”

He’s also an experienced marketing/PR pro and, more to the point, a reliable fundraiser. I ask him if soliciting money from individuals and organizations is even viable to attempt at present, with most of the world in pandemic lockdown and bleeding diseases probably not high on the list of most people’s medical musings. 

“Oh, we’re doing all right,” he says. “We have some amazing partners and a very dedicated (13-member) board of directors. They take a broader, long-range view of these issues.” (Hemophiliacs, he points out, are no more susceptible to the coronavirus than other people.)

Heath’s foundation is a liaison among patients, their families, doctors and the various government institutions devoted to healthcare issues. It hosts educational seminars, family outings and provides legislative advocacy, among other services. As you can imagine, Heath and his board are working on ways to handle these remotely until the various lockdowns and quarantines throughout the county, state, country and world are lifted. 

“We’re planning on doing an educational seminar in June for about 225-250 people,” he says. “If we need to break an all-day event into a series of webinars, we can do that, too.”

I often ask people who work in the nonprofit sector if the cause for which they’ve been hired to advocate has a personal meaning for them. Heath says, “Yes,” then—good ex-newsman that he is—clarifies his response. 

“If you mean does anyone in my family have hemophilia, the answer is no,” he says. “But when I was growing up in North Highlands, which was not exactly an affluent area, as the child of a single mom, a lot of people in the community stepped forward to help me. I just feel my work in nonprofits all of these years has been a way for me to thank them and carry on their work.” And certainly more helpful—if not always more enjoyable—than collecting broken baseball bats.

Ed Goldman's column appears almost every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. A former daily columnist for the Sacramento Business Journal, as well as monthly columnist for Sacramento Magazine and Comstock’s Business Magazine, he’s the author of five books, two plays and one musical (so far).