News & Events

$1b puts MGH in robust fund-raising health

Hospital on pace to set NE record in drive

By Liz Kowalczyk, Globe Staff | October 15, 2010

Massachusetts General Hospital has raised $1 billion as part of a $1.5 billion fund-raising campaign — despite the tattered economy and turmoil in the hospital industry — putting it on track to set what is believed to be a New England record.

The money will pay for Mass. General’s “Building for the Third Century,’’ a $579 million, 10-story glass and steel tower under construction and scheduled to open next summer. It will increase the number of hospital beds by almost 20 percent, add 19 operating rooms and include a modern, expansive emergency room to replace a dingy, jam-packed facility where patients often wait on gurneys parked in hallways.

The campaign, which the hospital planned to announce today, would surpass Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s record $1.18 billion fund-raising drive, which concluded in September.

MGH “has the cachet,’’ said Lynn Nicholas, president of the Massachusetts Hospital Association, many of whose members are laying off employees. “MGH has tremendous reach and offers many extra saves and care that would not otherwise be available. Naturally it would be easier for them to raise money.’’

Since the Campaign for the Third Century of MGH Medicine began in late 2005 — fund-raising drives traditionally have a quiet period before they are broadly publicized — the number of individual, foundation, and corporate donors to the Harvard teaching hospital has surged 20 percent, said Jim Thompson, vice president for development.

Wealthy philanthropists — including Bill and Melinda Gates, Phillip and Susan Ragon, and Peter and Paula Lunder — have helped fuel the drive, giving 135 separate gifts of $1 million or more.

Hospital executives also planned to announce today that the Lunders of Maine — Peter is the former Dexter Shoe Co. president and a longtime patient of Dr. James Dineen, a retired Mass. General internist — have donated $35 million that includes naming rights to the new tower, which will be called the Lunder Building.

The Lunders’ gift includes $5 million, which Mass. General must match, to expand training for health care providers and medical services for patients in Maine, including treatment for veterans of the Middle East wars with brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Gates Foundation donated $25 million. Phillip Terrence Ragon, a technology magnate, pledged $100 million for research on an AIDS vaccine.

The remainder of the $1.5 billion will go for research and patient care in Mass. General specialties including cancer, cardiovascular medicine, and psychiatry and to expand care for the poor at health centers. It also will provide seed money for innovative programs intended to improve care and to slow soaring health care costs, such as having nurses call every patient within 72 hours of discharge to schedule follow-up appointments, as a way to cut down on costly readmissions.

“We can’t afford to expand this approach to the entire hospital right now,’’ said Dr. Timothy Ferris, medical director of the Mass. General Physicians Organization. “The capital campaign will provide a bridge for this kind of work.’’

Dr. Peter Slavin, Mass. General president, said the hospital is on target to raise the entire $1.5 billion by the end of 2013, a goal that translates into raising a half million dollars a day for three years. The 200th anniversary of the hospital’s founding is next year.

Slavin said he does not believe the troubled economy has hurt the fund-raising drive, even though the downturn and the push to control health care costs have taken a toll on the state’s hospitals.

This week, UMass Memorial Health Care, which runs five hospitals, became the latest provider to announce layoffs.

A report earlier this year from the state attorney general’s office finding that Partners HealthCare hospitals, which include Mass. General, are among the highest paid by insurers in the state, has also apparently not deterred donors.

The hospital normally raises $40 million to $50 million a year. But that jumped to $200 million a year during the silent years of the fund-raising drive, helped by a 70 percent increase in development staff and organized panels of volunteers, including the part owner of the Boston Celtics, James Cash Jr., who invited potential donors into their homes and hosted events in hotels and research venues.

Cash stressed the role of, among other programs, Mass. General’s research into racial and ethnic disparities in the medical system, programs that are especially important in a recession.

“We have done remarkably well,’’ Slavin said. “People want to give money to institutions that are going to be around and use the money well. They know their dollars here are really going to make a difference in advancing medicine.’’

Bill McGinly, president of the Virginia-based Association for Healthcare Philanthropy, said the Mass. General campaign is the most ambitious he is aware of among New England hospitals and is probably the largest ever in the United States.

Overall, philanthropy to nonprofit health care providers dropped 11 percent last year, McGinly said, the steepest decline since 2002, both because of the recession and because “health care reform has introduced uncertainty in the minds of donors’’ about whether some institutions will succeed under new payment models.

But, he said, there are “some very strong pockets’’ in New England and other regions. In some sense, the rich do get richer because hospitals like Mass. General that are financially strong tend to attract robust philanthropy. “Donors feel more confident about the institution and so are more generous,’’ he said.