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Children’s hospital: Ceremony marks major milestone

By Staff | Sep 11, 2015

Excitement flowed out of a large tent Wednesday morning as Lee Memorial board of directors, legislators, physicians and many Lee Memorial Health System staff members and donors gathered for the Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida Topping Off Ceremony.

The excitement heightened as those in attendance cheered while a small foxtail palm was craned eight stories to the top of the hospital, still under construction, completing the special event.

Kathy Bridge-Liles, chief administrative officer for the Golisano Children’s Hospital, said Wednesday was an important day because it signified a major milestone for the children’s hospital. Sixteen months ago the project began.

“In about 16 months from today we are going to be cutting a ribbon and opening the doors to a whole new world of health care for children,” Bridge-Liles said.

VP Facility Management Support Services Dave Kistel said the concrete structure has reached its apex and they are now ready to close the building and complete the spaces inside.

Throughout the project, he said they used as many contractors and vendors from Lee County as they could. Eighteen of the 50 contractors were from Lee County, 12 of which were minority subcontractors. Eighty-three of the 126 contractors and vendors were also from Lee County.

Kistel said through July 2015, $18.9 million has been paid to Lee County local businesses.

A common theme was used as multiple “thank yous” were shared throughout the ceremony” – “Miracles happen here.”

Lee Memorial Health System President Jim Nathan said that in 1983 and 1984, health care entered into neonatal intensive care for the complex newborns and, although Lee Memorial did not quite know how to address the issue, they knew the distance between Tampa and Miami was way too far and they needed to figure out how to make something special happen.

Lee Memorial Health System became one of 11 regional prenatal intensive care centers in the state of Florida with the best outcomes in the state for neonatal care.

“It’s not just the fact that Lee Memorial built one of the finest children’s oncologists units in the nation because it is not appropriate for children to have cancer or other blood disorders, but they do,” Nathan said. “It’s not only the miracles that happen with surgery and critical care and the talent that we have been able to bring and recruit year after year that come into this community to help us on this journey that was once termed the little hospital that could that goes along its journey chugging along. People saying it’s not possible, we can’t make it happen, but miracles happen here.”

Fifteen years ago, Nathan asked Sharon MacDonald, who was the chief foundation officer, to go into the Lee Memorial Foundation and help set structure and direction for national recruiting to find a leader for the foundation for just one year.

“Sharon has left a legacy of miracles of her leadership talents and the team she brought together and the impressive donor base that has been built,” he said.

Nathan said they were asked to hire a consultant to do a feasibility study to see if Lee Memorial could raise $100 million for the children’s hospital.

“We looked at each other and said why on earth would we pay a consultant to tell us it can’t be done,” he said. “We need to figure out how to do it. Yes, miracles happen here.”

It was shared that children’s services are dependent on Medicaid, with the second highest form of payment being no pay. Nathan said there is a growth in the number of children in the community, as well as changes every day in medical care for children’s care.

“Why miracles can, do and have to happen right here in Southwest Florida is because it wasn’t that many years ago children with complex medical problems simply died. Now we not only have the capability to have them live, but we have the capability and talent to help them thrive,” Nathan said. “We needed to figure out how to help our families stay as close to home as possible while providing world class health care right here in Southwest Florida.”

Lee Memorial started its capital campaign and little by little, sometimes including little children coming forth with money from their piggy banks to help make the children’s hospital a reality. Nathan said they were seeking a name for the new hospital when one day they had the opportunity to meet Tom Golisano.

He took a tour of Lee Memorial and told Nathan that he would get back to him. Eventually Golisano reached out to Lee Memorial again, sharing that he was ready to talk some more, which led to the question, how much do you want. Nathan said, well, “How about a lot.”

After going into the hallway to talk to the director of his foundation, he returned a few minutes later saying how about $20 million.

“A year after he made his commitment and his first payment of $10 million knowing that we were going to meet that match and get to the $20 million match, he called me one day and said, ‘I just want you to know I feel better about my decision today than the day I made my decision,'” Nathan told the crowd while fighting back tears. “That was truly special. We call him Mr. Sunshine.”

Chairman of the Capital Campaign Joseph Catti said as of Wednesday they are just shy of $94 million.

Although Golisano could not be at the ceremony, he was recognized for his incredible generosity and passion for children, which took the hospital’s fundraising efforts to another level.

“Today marks the pivotal point in the journey of completion of America’s newest next generation children’s hospital,” Bridge-Liles read from a letter Golisano sent. “My gift to the children’s hospital stems from the deep admiration for the leadership team, but mostly of the truly heroic work of the physicians and clinical staff that I witnessed many times during my many visits to your great hospital. My gift helped leverage support from others, from all of you to help contribute in a meaningful way.”

Follow Meghan @IslanderMeghan on Twitter.