Jennie Sealy Hospital: Opening Soon!

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemOn Monday, January 18, I received a message from Mike Shriner, Vice President of Business Operations and Facilities, confirming that the Jennie Sealy Hospital had reached substantial completion. He also confirmed that all of the life safety and mechanical systems had been tested and passed inspection. Substantial completion is a big deal in a construction project, because it is the day that responsibility for the building changes from being that of the contractor to that of the owner. Jennie Sealy Hospital is now officially UTMB’s! I breathed a sigh of relief when I received this text, because it means we are in the home stretch to opening the building for our patients and their families.

Jennie Sealy Hospital Groundbreaking Ceremony, April 20, 2012

Jennie Sealy Hospital Groundbreaking Ceremony, April 20, 2012

On Wednesday, I had the opportunity to tour the new facility with the Board of Directors of The Sealy & Smith Foundation, who generously contributed $170 million toward the construction of the new hospital. A little less than four years ago, on April 20, 2012, we broke ground on the new hospital together, so it was quite an experience for all of us to finally be inside of the building. Although access to the hospital is still restricted and the building is not open to staff for tours until February 25, I can share that it is a very exciting experience to finally stand inside UTMB’s beautiful new hospital, and the reality that we will soon be welcoming our first patients on April 9, 2016 has really set in!

The day of our tour, the building was teeming with activity. One of the first things I observed were workmen who were going through the punch lists. Punch lists are documents that list small (and sometimes a little bigger) corrections or repairs that need to be made before the building can be occupied. Seeing this activity reminded me of the time my family built our home in Wisconsin. Before we moved in, we walked through the house and used blue tape to mark areas where additional work was needed—on walls, doors and tiles, we had blue tape everywhere from floor to ceiling! We were so excited about finally moving into our new home.

Other workmen throughout the hospital were busy hanging artwork. We developed a small committee to choose the art, and we spent hours doing so. When we chose the different pieces, we made our selections with patients and visitors in mind. Our goal was to create a welcoming environment by providing a connection to nature. Because the hospital is located on Galveston Island, we chose a coastal theme. When you see the art, you will recognize that many of the images depict scenery around the island; in fact, 20% of the collection was purchased from local artists.

As a lover of art and as someone married to an artist, I appreciate how much art can define a space and give it a sense of character. Much of the art selection process was conducted online, so when I finally had the chance to see everything we had selected hung on the wall, I was amazed by how it transformed the space. I was struck by how the pieces were so beautifully illuminated by the natural light in the foyer, creating a very calm and relaxing atmosphere. I definitely have some favorite pieces, and I’m so excited for you all to see them, too. I will be interested to know what your favorites are when you have the chance to tour the hospital.

Throughout the tour, I was very impressed with the new workspaces and how well they are designed to support the work we do. Between every two patient rooms, there is a work area that gives clinicians a direct line of sight to the patient. Each unit also has an employee break room, and there are spaces on each floor for teaching rounds or small meetings. Each patient room has a space for the care team to work and access a computer. There is also an area for the family members to sit and, if they wish, use a laptop or do work on the sofa. If a family member or friend would like to stay overnight in the room with the patient, the sofa turns into a twin-sized bed, and there is a small television in the visitor alcove that allows them to watch television without disturbing the patient.

I must admit, however, that the best part of the hospital is the breathtaking view of the Gulf of Mexico from the patient rooms. I am convinced that these views alone will provide a sense of calm that will contribute positively to the experience of patients and their families and will help the healing process.


I am so excited for our patients, visitors and you to see and work in this space. I arrived at UTMB one year after Hurricane Ike, and I know so many of you were here before, during and after the storm. You all helped make it possible for UTMB to rebound and become the incredible organization it is. As I look at the new Jennie Sealy Hospital, I recall so many of the stories I heard about the struggle to get the support to rebuild UTMB on the island. I recall stories of people who told UTMB President Dr. David Callender that it would not be possible to rebuild the campus and that UTMB should be closed.

Texas Governor Rick Perry signing House Bill 4586 (photo compliments of the Governor’s Office)

Texas Gov. Rick Perry signing House Bill 4586 (photo compliments of the Governor’s Office)

Despite the challenges faced, UTMB’s importance to the state was recognized and it was decided that the Galveston campus would be rebuilt. In July 2009, the UTMB community and its supporters watched the historic moment when Texas Governor Rick Perry signed House Bill 4586, the supplemental appropriations bill that included $150 million in funding to help the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston recover from Hurricane Ike.

As I look out my office window at the Jennie Sealy Hospital today, I am reminded that this hospital is a symbol of the resilience, tenacity and hard work of so many people at UTMB, of the Galveston community, and many individuals across the State of Texas who never gave up on UTMB Health. Thank you to everyone who has worked so hard to create the new Jennie Sealy Hospital. It will be an honor to care for our patients and their families in this beautiful new facility.

The New Jennie Sealy Hospital - Opening April 9, 2016

The New Jennie Sealy Hospital – Opening April 9, 2016

Employee Tours of the new Jennie Sealy Hospital will be held Thursday, February 25, 2016 from 4:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. More information on the opportunity to tour will be available to you in the next few weeks.


Home is where the heart is, even if you can’t remember which box you packed it in.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemAlthough my life does not reflect it, I hate moving. About 27 years ago, my husband and I moved to a new house. I was thrilled. We would have enough room for our growing family, and we would have additional rooms and storage space to put “our stuff”. I was so certain that this was going to be our “forever” home that I told the realtor I knew the last vehicle in which I would exit the home’s driveway would be an ambulance or a hearse. That was nine moves ago!

Right now in my UTMB office suite, we are getting ready to move to the new Jennie Sealy Hospital. In preparation, I am going through all of the things in my office that have accumulated over the years. Each time I do this, I am always amazed at how much “stuff” one can acquire in a few short years! William Morris once said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.” So, I am using this as an opportunity to “repack my bags and lighten my load” before our move at the end of February.

As we prepare to open our new hospital for patients and their families, and as UTMB’s growth continues on and off the island, many of you will also soon move into new workspaces. I have always felt that moving into a new space is an exciting experience—it can even feel like a new beginning. While it is exciting, there are aspects of moving into a new workspace that I find closely parallel with getting ready to move into a new home:

  1. Just like moving to a newly constructed home, we have to walk through the new hospital building and do a “punch list”. That means many people in Business Operations & Facilities and Health System Administration will spend time looking for things in the building that need to be corrected, such as anything that is not constructed as it should have been, any incidental damages to existing finishes, and any mechanical or electrical installations that aren’t properly functioning. Those findings are then shared with the contractor, so they can fix everything before staff and patients move into the building.
  2. We need to go through our belongings and decide what we need to move, what we will leave behind and what should be thrown away. This is a process that is not always as easy as it sounds! When it comes to moving from one house to another, my advice as an experienced mover is to start early enough that you have time to carefully sort through things. The process always goes quickly at first, but as you get to the point of sorting through odds and ends, it can seem like it takes ages. Meanwhile, we have to plan so that we don’t pack things we need in order to continue doing our necessary work. I remember during one of my family’s moves, we started running out of time. We were fortunate to have the help of movers to pack for us, but when I unpacked at the new house, I found a bunch things like expired coupons neatly wrapped, taped, and moved from Wisconsin to Texas!
  3. We need to decide where we want to place our furniture, supplies and belongings. Getting unpacked and organized is the next step. It may take a while to get a feel for the space and to know how to make it both comfortable and functional. We will need to decide where we want to place the things we know we will use a lot, as well as items that are not used as frequently, and make sure everything is stored properly. We want to be able to work as efficiently and safely as possible in our new workspaces.
  4. We need to settle in! When I move into a new home, I wait a while before I begin contacting plumbers, electricians and handypersons to do each repair job I have discovered. I know from my own experience over the years that it is necessary to spend a little time actually living in the home before all of the things that need to be repaired reveal themselves. As sure as I come across the first item that needs attention, I will uncover yet another the following week, and perhaps even a third or more in the weeks to come. As a homeowner, it is not economical to set up an appointment for each and every project as they surface, because one must pay a service charge for each visit. Instead, I wait about three months, put together my list, and then engage the appropriate worker(s). That saves money and time. Moving into our new hospital home should be similar. This means we will not initiate change orders and work orders for about 90 days, unless of course there are safety issues. Why do we wait 90 days? It gives us a chance to work in our space and see if we can come up with effective solutions on our own. It also gives us an opportunity to prepare a complete and comprehensive list of exactly what is needed, versus what we can make work efficiently and safely.

The Jennie Sealy Hospital is the first brand new hospital for UTMB since the John Sealy Hospital was established in 1978. This is an exciting time for us. It symbolizes the resilience and resurgence of UTMB following Hurricane Ike and our future as a leading academic medical center in the region, the state and the nation. We have a new home in our UTMB community!


The Scenery You Miss

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health System“Slow down and enjoy life. It’s not only the scenery you miss by going too fast – you also miss the sense of where you are going and why.” ~Eddie Cantor

Earlier this week, I was having a very busy day. It was already past noon, and I was between meetings with just enough time to walk over to the cafeteria from my office, grab a sandwich and run back to my office to eat it. However, when I arrived at Café on the Court, it looked like everyone else on campus had the exact same schedule as I did – it was packed! All of the lines to the cashiers were long, and I started to grow concerned that I might not get back to my office in time for the meeting, let alone to eat my lunch. My mood started to sink.

I recently learned there is a slang word for feeling hungry and grumpy at the same time: “Hangry”! It’s a funny word that can surely only be found in an urban dictionary, but no matter what you call it, we’ve all experienced that overwhelming irritability that takes over when we’ve gone too long without food. Turns out, there is actually some science behind it – skipping meals can trigger us to feel overwhelmed with feelings. It’s exactly what I was experiencing in that moment.

As I hurriedly made my way to exit the cafeteria, I was approached by Dr. Belinda Escamilla, director of Radiology Services. “Hi, Donna,” she said. “I know you’re very busy, but do you have a minute?” All I could do was think about my lunch and my next meeting. I honestly did not think I could last another hour on an empty stomach. True, it was my fault – I had done what we are always told not to do – I had skipped breakfast. Unfortunately, I felt as though my body language might be communicating my distraction to Belinda.

“I want to introduce you to this gentleman, Tommy,” she continued. Tommy wore a navy blue shirt and a badge with a “C” on it, which told me he was a contract maintenance worker. “Last week in your Friday Flash Report, you wrote about Random Acts of Kindness, and how it should be a goal in 2016 to try and do one random act of kindness daily for someone. Well, I just observed Tommy talking to the cashier, pointing out five different people – he was paying for everyone’s meals!”

Tommy explained that this was just something he liked to do. Even when eating out, he said he sometimes likes to leave a generous tip for the wait staff. I knew this was true of him, because he didn’t realize anyone was watching him and had just demonstrated his generosity! I thought about what a kind gesture this was.

As I walked back to my office, with plenty of time to eat, I started feeling a little guilty. I had so many things on my mind in that moment in the cafeteria, and I was so worried about all the things I had to do that afternoon, I had forgotten to be in the present moment. I had forgotten to simply take a minute for someone else! By the time I arrived at my office, I felt I needed to immediately call Belinda to thank her for the introduction and to apologize if I had seemed anything less than engaged in our conversation.

I suspect that most of us have probably been at fault for this sort of thing at one time or another in our lives. We often become so wrapped up in what we are doing that we fail to realize that stress shows, and it can affect our body language, demeanor, and sometimes even the way we treat others. What is worse, it can cause us to overlook really important things, such as a patient in need of assistance or a broken piece of equipment. It may cause us to take a shortcut that could end up harming ourselves or someone else. It can even result in a missed opportunity to show kindness and compassion to someone else—such a brief interaction, missed or taken, could impact another person in either a very positive or negative way.

I needed the lesson to remind me that in order to make a positive impact, I should always try to take advantage of opportunities I’m given to help and show support for others. Instead of thinking about the afternoon ahead of me and what I needed to do, I should have been thinking about the great opportunity I had in the present to talk to and meet some incredible people! To fully live our value of compassion, we need to see the need that is before us and meet it. We need to recognize others and the work that they do. Yesterday was a good reminder for me that I needed to live this value more fully by staying engaged in the present when I am out and about and have the opportunity to meet and talk to some amazing people – like you!

A book I read a while back called “Repacking Your Bags: Lighten Your Load for the Good Life” says that sometimes the things we think we need to carry around with us are unnecessary. We become so consumed by thinking about the weight of our “backpack” that we forget to look at the world with a sense of curiosity and a feeling of wonder – or in my case, I almost forgot the importance of slowing down so that I could give my full attention to meeting a very kind, generous person and to show my appreciation for the director who simply didn’t want me to miss an opportunity to meet a wonderful person. Thanks, Belinda Escamilla, for making sure I did not miss out!


Constant kindness can accomplish much.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemIn October 2015, I wrote about an experience I had one day in the drive-through at McDonald’s. That afternoon, I had been the recipient of a random act of kindness when the person in the vehicle ahead of me surprised me by paying for my order. This was the first time such a thing had ever happened to me, and it touched me so deeply that I felt compelled to share the story in Friday Flash. At the end of that post, I welcomed all of you to also share examples with me of a time when you had either shared or received a similar act of kindness in your life. A number of people responded to that request, and in the spirit of the New Year, I would like to share some of the uplifting stories I received.

One individual wrote to me about her nephew, whose child suffers from chronic liver disease. Due to the family’s escalating medical bills, their financial situation is very difficult. One day, the family was shopping for a new bed at a local store. “My nephew explained to his young son that they were just shopping around that day, but after pay day the following week, they would purchase his son’s new bed,” she wrote. “My great nephew, a very wise five-year-old, responded that he understood it was because of his sister’s illness.” Meanwhile, a stranger who had overheard their conversation motioned for a sales clerk. She told the clerk that she would take the same bed that the boy liked as well as the best mattress in stock, and asked for the merchandise to be taken to the front of the store so she could pay for it. As the family left the store, they discovered the new bed was already in their truck, paid for by a stranger and ready to take home! This random act of kindness so deeply impacted this individual’s family that they all vowed to do at least one random act of kindness daily as a way of repaying the stranger’s kindness and generosity.

A clinical educator shared her story. “I had picked up my 88-year old mother from the rehab hospital to take her home. We stopped at a local restaurant and ordered our meals and drinks. That day we also ordered desserts, which we don’t usually. When I asked for the ticket, the waitress replied, ‘It has already been paid for by a lady who checked out. She was sitting a couple of tables away.’ We were so surprised and grateful! I wanted to find this individual and say thank you, but there was no way to know who she was. I still remember that day and her act of kindness. Knowing there are still kind people in the world softens the heart.”

An employee in Correctional Managed Care wrote to me about her story. “It happened this morning as I was coming into the Cotulla Unit to help out. A lady correctional officer met me outside and told me that she had seen me on Facebook and had read about my graduation from Breast Cancer Reconstruction. She told me how proud she was of me. She even knew me by my name, and I don’t even know her. I thought that was so sweet, it just made my day.”

Finally, a manager at UTMB Health Angleton Danbury Campus shared her story. “I experienced an act of kindness a few weeks back at Chick-fil-A. When I got to the window to pay for my order, I was told that my meal had been paid for and was handed a note that said ‘Pay it Forward. God Bless.’ I then paid for the person in line behind me and wrote the same note to give to them. As I drove off, I wondered how long that kind gesture would keep paying forward! My husband and I will often pay for someone’s food when we go out to eat; it is a great feeling to see the smile on their faces. My husband believes random acts of kindness will return tenfold.”

As I read these stories and contemplated my own experience, I wondered what would happen if we each decided to do something kind and unexpected every day in 2016. An act of kindness need not require a great deal of effort or even cost a dime—a simple smile, an offer to help a patient or visitor get to the place they need to go, or surprising a co-worker with thank you note or “pat on the back” can truly make a difference in someone’s day. We can do this for anyone we sense could use a little more kindness!

I am told that when we do something kind for someone else, it improves the life of the receiver as well as the life of the giver. Kindness is contagious, and giving increases our happiness, fulfillment and purpose in life. Albert Schwitzer said it best: “Constant kindness can accomplish much. As the sun makes ice melt, kindness causes misunderstanding, mistrust and hostility to evaporate.” Let’s make spreading kindness and compassion our mission at UTMB Health in 2016, and best wishes to all in the New Year!