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Foundation Doubles Goal to Raise Money for new Children's Hospital - May 6, 2011

— The Lee Memorial Health System Foundation has set a goal of $15 million this year for fundraising, in part because of hospital leaders’ plan to build a new Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.

The foundation’s 2011 goal is more than twice last year’s goal of $6.5 million, which was surpassed when $7.4 million was raised in 2010.

So far the foundation is on course to do well again this year, according to a report that Sharon MacDonald, chief foundation officer, has prepared for a Thursday, May 12, presentation to the Lee Memorial Hospital system board of directors.

To date, the foundation has brought in $6.4 million, which stands at $3.7 million more than what was raised at the same time last year.

“I’ve got some great donor directors who are very effective at what they do,” MacDonald said.

The economy is improving and so people are looking again toward philanthropy, she said. In addition, the expansion of the children’s hospital is a draw and her staff members have been planting the seeds with significant donors for some time on this project.

In the planning stages for several years by the hospital board, the expansion involves a 400,000-square-foot, six-story tower that will be built next to HealthPark, south of Fort Myers. The cost is $192 million, including equipment.

The children’s hospital serves residents of Lee, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Charlotte counties. About 5,000 children are admitted yearly and the hospital’s outpatient program accommodates 40,000 visits annually.

Lee Memorial’s board gave approval last November to start fundraising for the project, along with directing staff to begin detailed design work. Another $5.6 million needs to be raised for the site work and the board wants to build a new six-story, 1,250-space parking garage, with an estimated price tag of $19.7 million.

The new children’s hospital will have 148 beds, up from the current 98 beds, and aims to address growth for the next decade.

MacDonald couldn’t say precisely how much of the fundraising goal of $15 million this year will be allocated to the capital project but she expects most of it would be.

“Almost 80 percent of what we raise go to children’s services anyway,” she said.

Lee Memorial board chairman Richard Akin said the foundation’s goal of raising $15 million this year is due to the foundation’s hard-working staff and the great project with the children’s hospital. He expects the goal to be surpassed.

“In my opinion it is as important as when we got Florida Gulf Coast University or anything else,” he said. “It creates lots of jobs and improves health care for children all over the area. This is huge. In my opinion, it is the most important project to come in a long, long time and I think other people feel the same way. It’s easier to raise money when you’ve got a really good project.”

A projected timeline is to break ground in the next 18 months, which creates a domino effect because of increased capacity for pediatric patients and the space now used in HealthPark by children will be freed up to use for expanding adult care, namely for cardiac care.

An estimated one-third of the pediatric patient volume is from Collier because of children with specialty medical needs.

Lee Memorial recently opened a specialty outpatient clinic in North Naples so that local children can see pediatric specialists on staff of the children’s hospital who will rotate through the clinic on different days. The clinic will save time and travel for the children who need frequent checkups for their illnesses.

Philanthropy from Collier residents will play a big role toward the new children’s hospital, said Steve Wheeler, director of major gifts and planned giving for the foundation.

“We’re going to see significant support from Collier County and we should,” he said, referring to the volume of local children who are treated at the children’s hospital. “We are blessed to be in a philanthropic-minded community.”

In Lee County, the Sanibel-Captiva community, through a program called Sanibel-Captiva cares, has pledged to raise $10 million over five years for the project. The Southwest Florida Children’s Charities Inc. likewise has set a $10 million goal over five years for the new hospital.