An independent philanthropic organization, the Frist Foundation was established in Nashville in 1982 as the HCA Foundation by the Hospital Corporation of America. In April 1997 the foundation changed its name to the Frist Foundation in honor of its founding directors, Thomas F. Frist Sr., M.D., and Thomas F. Frist Jr., M.D., who also founded HCA. In 2001 the Frist Foundation board consisted of Thomas F. Frist Jr., chairman; Kenneth Roberts, president; Jack O. Bovender Jr.; Robert C. Crosby; Helen K. Cummings; Justice Frank F. Drowota III; and Patricia Frist. The foundation focuses its efforts on the Metropolitan Nashville area.
When first established under executive director Ida F. Cooney (1982-91), the HCA Foundation focused on Nashville and other communities in the United States and abroad served by HCA-affiliated hospitals. The foundation became legally independent of HCA in 1985 but kept the HCA name until 1997. Following Cooney's retirement in 1991, Kenneth L. Roberts became president and chief executive officer.
The Frist Foundation emphasizes its support in four areas: arts and culture; civil and community affairs; education; and health and human services. Among the Frist Foundation's major projects is Nashville's Agenda, a citizen-based project that sets goals for the city's future; it also cofounded the Center for Nonprofit Management. The foundation has especially encouraged the improvement of nonprofits in technology, strategic planning, and agency collaborations. The foundation also provided the lead in the mid-1990s to develop the Frist Center for the Visual Arts.