Caring Begins Where Skill and Compassion Meet

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemSince we officially opened Jennie Sealy Hospital, the lobby has been bustling with activity around the clock. I am proud to say that we have a wonderful group of staff working at the front of the hospital, all of whom I have met. They are present at the front desk and driveway, greeting our patients and visitors with a smile, answering questions, and helping people get to their destinations in the hospital and around the Galveston campus.

One day, however, I noticed an individual from Hospital Transportation Services whom I had not yet met. I introduced myself and learned that this gentleman was Justin Sanchez, and he has worked at UTMB for about two years. Most often, I see Justin in the driveway assisting patients and visitors in and out of their vehicles and into the hospital. I have noticed that he stays very busy. I also noticed that even when he is not actively assisting someone, he is almost always on his feet.

As Justin and I talked, I mentioned to him that in John Sealy Hospital, we have a podium and a chair for transportation staff to sit and rest while they wait for the next person to arrive. It also helps guests know that the person behind the podium is a staff member who can assist them. I let him know that we would arrange to have the same set up for him and the other members of the transportation team in Jennie Sealy Hospital; however, he did not seem too concerned about having a place to sit.

“I really don’t mind,” he replied. “I just want patients to be able to see me and know I’m here, ready to help them.”

His statement stayed with me. For many people who come to our hospital, Justin will be the first person they encounter. I truly appreciate his attitude toward greeting and helping our guests. It is a mindset I hope we will all emulate! I believe this sort of an approach to helping our patients and visitors sets the stage for the welcoming, caring atmosphere all people should experience when they visit any UTMB campus or clinic location. I hope we all will follow Justin’s example to be visible so our patients and visitors will know we are here to help them!

After all, caring begins where skill and compassion meet!

 Justin Sanchez (Hospital Transportation Services), Donna Sollenberger (EVP & CEO, UTMB Health System), and Cindy Jones (Hospital Transportation Services)
Justin Sanchez (Hospital Transportation Services), Donna Sollenberger (EVP & CEO, UTMB Health System), and Cindy Jones (Hospital Transportation Services)


We Never Know Whose Lives We’ll Touch

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemWhen it comes to the size of the planet, I’ve always found two things fascinating. First, it’s actually a small world, because you never know who you are going to meet or encounter. Secondly, we never know how our connections and relationships will have an impact on our lives and the lives of others. These phenomena rang true for me as we officially opened Jennie Sealy Hospital for our patients and their loved ones on April 9, 2016.

The Earth’s circumference (the distance around the equator) is 24,901 miles; its surface area is two hundred million square miles (nearly 71 percent of that is covered by water); and the world’s population is nearly 7.5 billion people. Yet, although the planet is so large, it seems as though we will inevitably run into someone we know, whether we are traveling across the state or across the globe—even when we are not planning anything with them.

My husband has always been fascinated by how often this happens to me during our travels. It began when we lived in Illinois and would often visit Chicago. It seemed that on every trip, I would cross paths with someone I knew from one of my health care jobs or professional associations. As my circle of relationships enlarged, so did the distance we traveled where I would see someone I knew. It happened so often, my husband started teasing me about it, but I would just laugh and tell him he was exaggerating.

After a trip to London, however, I started thinking that perhaps he was right. We were standing in the middle of Heathrow Airport waiting for our luggage to come off the carousel when I heard someone call out, “Donna Sollenberger!” I turned around and immediately recognized the individual as an old friend. I had not seen him in 25 years! As my friend and I embraced, I could see my husband behind secretly mouthing, “I told you so.”

Then, some years ago, my kids taught me a game called “The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”. This game, which is based on the premise that any two people on Earth are six or fewer acquaintance links apart, supposedly began after two college students saw an interview in which actor Kevin Bacon had commented that he had worked with just about everyone in Hollywood or someone who had worked with them. As they explored the veracity of this statement with others, the conversation spread, eventually turning into a widely-known game.

The game proceeds like this: someone in the group provides a name, and the group has to connect that individual with Kevin Bacon as quickly as possible and in as few links as possible. Here is an example, using Elvis Presley:

  • Elvis Presley was in “Change of Habit” (1969) with Edward Asner.
  • Edward Asner was in “JFK” (1991) with Kevin Bacon.

We tried it several times, and we generally found it worked. We are all connected in some way, even if it is over many degrees of separation. I think the same is true of health care.

So, where am I headed with this? Well, this past weekend as we moved our adult patients from the medical/surgical and intensive care units in John Sealy Hospital to the new Jennie Sealy Hospital, the very first patient we transported that day had completed his medical residency at UTMB. The very last patient we transported had once been a UTMB faculty member. By whatever chance this had occurred, I could not help but consider the significance.

As I traverse the 765,000 square foot Jennie Sealy Hospital, I think of the many people who helped plan, design, build and activate this facility. I see the names of so many individuals and employees who made contributions toward the construction of this building. I think of the renovations currently under way in John Sealy Hospital and the future opening of the League City Hospital in June 2016. I wonder whether or not the family of the first John Sealy* could have ever envisioned how much the gift they gave to Galveston Island would flourish when they first established John Sealy Hospital in 1890.

I also think about UTMB’s history and all of the individuals who not only made this organization what it is today, but who helped pave the way for its future. I think of the individuals who will care for our patients in our hospitals, both today and in years to come. I think of the employees at UTMB who help make exceptional patient care and education possible through the support they provide. I think of tomorrow’s medical professionals who will train in our facilities—UTMB’s reach extends across the state and around the globe as our trainees and graduates work wonders near and far.

Whether you care for our patients in one of our hospitals or clinics or you work in a setting that supports our research, education and patient care missions, I hope you feel connected to the story of UTMB and the impact you will have on the lives of our patients and their families, both today and in the future. We never know whose lives will be touched! For me, this sense of connection to the past and to the future was brought about by the presence of these two patients last weekend.

“In life, we leave a legacy to our children, we leave our footprints wherever we travel, and we leave our fingerprints on every heart we touch.” ― Pat Patrick

The original John Sealy Hospital opened in 1890.

The original John Sealy Hospital opened in 1890.

*The first John Sealy was born in Pennsylvania. In 1846, having heard stories of the new State of Texas, he moved to Galveston to seek his fortune. Galveston was the principal seaport and commercial center of Texas where he prospered in banking, shipping, railroads and cotton businesses. John Sealy married Rebecca Davis and they had two children, John and Jennie. He died in 1884. In his will, he left $50,000 for a charitable purpose in Galveston to be decided by his executors.

In 1881 Texas voters had decided to locate the University of Texas Medical Department in Galveston, but by the time of John Sealy’s death it had not become a reality. His executors, wife Rebecca and brother George, decided to build a hospital in Galveston with the bequest. The Sealy family paid the additional costs of construction not covered by the bequest and the John Sealy Hospital opened in 1890.

The Sealy family decision to build a hospital swayed the State finally to build the medical school in Galveston. Thus began the Sealy family 150-year legacy of health care involvement in Galveston.

For more on the history of The Sealy & Smith Foundation, click here PDF.

Opening a long-awaited gift…

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemAs a young girl, I always looked forward to Christmas, a holiday that our family celebrated. Each December, the anticipation would build as I wondered if I would get the “big” present from Santa that I wanted. One year, I had very high hopes for that gift…and I received the present about which I had dreamed.

Tomorrow, we will transport our adult patients from John Sealy Hospital to Jennie Sealy Hospital. As I think about this historic moment, I cannot help but notice the similarities between opening our beautiful new hospital and the year I received that “big” present I had always wanted for Christmas.

As a ten-year-old fifth grader growing up in Paris, Illinois, I already knew that Santa got a lot of “help” from my parents. However, this knowledge did not diminish my eagerness to find out whether or not I would receive the shiny new aqua and chrome bicycle I had recently seen at the bicycle shop. Without a doubt, that was the bike I wanted. But, as my parents had sensibly pointed out to me, it was very expensive. With those words, a feeling of uncertainty had been created—although I believed I would get a bicycle of some sort, I was not so sure that I would get the one I really, really wanted.

When I went to bed on Christmas Eve, I could hardly sleep. I wondered through the long hours of the night whether I would get the bike I wanted. When I awoke on Christmas morning, it was still dark outside. I checked my alarm clock to see it was only 3:00 a.m. My parents never minded that my siblings and I got up early, but I was certain that getting everyone out of bed at three o’clock in the morning was out of the question. So, I quietly got out of bed so as not to awaken my sister, and I tip-toed to the living room.

In the darkness, I could vaguely see the outline of a bicycle, but I could not tell if it was the one for which I had wished. Very quietly, I pulled back the living room drapes so the light from the street lamp in our front yard shone in through the window. I saw the light bounce off a shiny aqua and chrome bicycle. It was the exact bike I had wanted!

Christmas morning came and went, and that afternoon, I took my new bicycle outside for my first ride. Fortunately, winter that year had been milder than usual, so I did not have to contend with snow. But as I sat on the seat, I realized that this was a much larger bicycle than I was used to. My feet barely touched the pedals. My dad noticed this immediately and helped me lower the seat so that it fit me better. In addition to being a much larger bike than the one I had before, many of its features worked differently than my old bike. The handlebars where higher, the basket was in the back instead of the front, and it did not have a bell like my other bicycle.

As I pushed off to take my first ride, my first few minutes pedaling around were a little wobbly. I could tell that my dad was concerned, but I let him know I would get used to it. “Don’t worry,” I told him. And I was right. Within the hour, I was riding the bike as if I had it my whole life.

Just as I waited with eager anticipation to receive my new bicycle, we have also waited a long time for the official opening of Jennie Sealy Hospital to become a reality. When I arrived at UTMB in September 2009, the Texas Legislature had approved rebuilding UTMB on the island, but the business plan had not been completed, and the University of Texas System Board of Regents still had to approve it, which they did in August of 2011. Now, a little more than four years later, we are ready to open the hospital to care for our patients.

Our gift of Jennie Sealy Hospital to the communities we serve required many helpers, including the UT System and Texas Legislature, the entire Galveston community, many generous donors, and our faculty and employees. Whether you helped with the design, helped get the building ready for our employees and patients, served as a volunteer for the official patient move day, or you made your own special contribution to the Jennie Sealy Hospital, all of you were critical “helpers” who got us to this pivotal moment in UTMB’s history.

Our new gift is also shiny and clean, thanks to the entire Environmental Services team, led by Jason Botkin, who worked endless hours to ensure that the hospital would be clean and ready to accept new patients on Saturday. It is my hope that we will all take the responsibility to keep Jennie Sealy Hospital as beautiful as it was the day it opened through simple actions like picking up trash on the floor, keeping the hallways clear, and ensuring visible work spaces are tidy and uncluttered.

Just as I quickly got accustomed to the bigger bicycle, I know that once we adjust to the size of our new space in Jennie Sealy Hospital, we will really enjoy it and fully appreciate its features. For example, the patient rooms in Jennie Sealy Hospital are twice the size of rooms in John Sealy Hospital*. Work spaces for clinicians are also larger, and there is additional storage for supplies and medications. Because the space in the new hospital is so much larger, we added a new nurse communication system. The placement of decentralized nurse stations between every other patient room will help nurses stay close to their patients while working on the computer.

Finally, just as my father needed to adjust the seat and handlebars on my bike for me, I know there will be things that will need to be changed once we move into our new space and as we get settled. If the adjustments that are needed relate to the safe care of our patients, those items will be triaged and addressed immediately; meanwhile, to-do items that are not patient safety issues will be compiled on a master list and addressed in order of importance.

For many of us, April 9, 2016 will be an exciting day, and it will also be a day filled with emotion. In many respects, opening Jennie Sealy Hospital means we are officially closing the chapter on Hurricane Ike and beginning a new chapter of exemplary health care at UTMB. I want to thank each one of you today for helping UTMB give this beautiful new gift to our patients and the communities we serve, to our health care teams and our employees, and to tomorrow’s health care professionals who will train in this new state-of-the-art facility.

One of my favorite sayings is, “Hope is wishing for something to happen. Faith is believing something will happen. Courage is making something happen.”

Thank you to each one of you who stood by UTMB Health throughout this chapter in its history. Your faith and courage to forge forward to rebuild a new UTMB made the new Jennie Sealy Hospital possible!

University of Texas Medical Branch- Jennie Sealy Replacement Hospital

Jennie Sealy Hospital – Photo courtesy of HDR Architecture, Inc.; © 2016 Dan Schwalm/HDR

*Phase II of the John Sealy Hospital Modernization Project will soon begin, and those renovations will expand all units to match those in Jennie Sealy Hospital.

The people who helped make Jennie Sealy Hospital a reality…

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThe other day, I was in my office when I heard some familiar voices. I got up to find Dr. Joan Richardson, Dr. Barbara Thompson, and four other people outside my door. Drs. Richardson and Thompson had some family and friends in town and wanted to give them a tour of Jennie Sealy Hospital. Since I had some “desk time” on my schedule, I offered to give them a quick tour, which they accepted.

As I began telling them about the hospital, its features and our approach to the design, I realized that I had become really energized, animated and happy. I feel that way every time I enter the lobby or go on a tour of the hospital, especially when I think about how far we have come as an organization since Hurricane Ike.

University of Texas Medical Branch- Jennie Sealy Replacement Hospital

Main Lobby, Jennie Sealy Hospital – Photo courtesy of HDR Architecture, Inc.; © 2016 Dan Schwalm/HDR

To me, Jennie Sealy Hospital is a symbol of the determination and resilience of the UTMB community, a symbol of the teamwork that went into making our renewal and growth possible, and a symbol of our hope for the future of UTMB Health.

Nothing this big can be done without the support and effort of so many people, working together for a common cause. Previously, we acknowledged the generous spirit of our donors, in particular The
Sealy & Smith Foundation, who donated $170 million toward making Jennie Sealy Hospital a reality. We have also recognized the incredible support we received from state, county and local officials who came together to assure that UTMB stayed in Galveston. But, it is the people who work at UTMB—the individuals who shared their ideas and expertise on excellent patient care delivery and service—who really should be recognized. To those of you who contributed to this amazing project in large or small ways, directly or indirectly, you have made the seemingly impossible possible!

Jennie Sealy Hospital - Photo courtesy of HDR Architecture, Inc.; © 2016 Dan Schwalm/HDR

Entrance, Jennie Sealy Hospital – Photo courtesy of HDR Architecture, Inc.; © 2016 Dan Schwalm/HDR

Jennie Sealy Hospital is a 765,000 square feet facility and a beautiful new addition to our Galveston campus. Between the John Sealy and Jennie Sealy Hospitals and all of our education and research buildings, UTMB-Galveston is starting to feel like its own city! To be able to open, operate and maintain our patient care facilities, we need facilities expertise, architects, housekeepers, transportation aides, parking experts, financial analysts, information technology experts, doctors, nurses, technicians, greeters and the list goes on.

If you are one of the people who contributed your time and energy into assuring that Jennie Sealy Hospital opened on time and under budget for our patients, thank you! Your steadfast support of UTMB and your passion for excellence have made all the difference—you have shown how far a determined and resilient group of people can go to reach their goal.

University of Texas Medical Branch- Jennie Sealy Replacement Hospital

Patient Room, Jennie Sealy Hospital – Photo courtesy of HDR Architecture, Inc.; © 2016 Dan Schwalm/HDR

Those who supported the construction of Jennie Sealy Hospital through their contributions to the 2012 Family Campaign had a chance to forever become part of this symbol of hope by signing one of the structural beams that is now in the uppermost stairwell (located in the southwest wing) of the building. This beam will forever be a visible reminder of the many people at UTMB who supported the effort to build our new hospital. Each signature on the beam represents an individual’s commitment to improve the health in the communities UTMB serves, while the beam itself represents the collective gift of nearly 4,000 employees who raised more than $10 million toward the new hospital.

Every building has a story – and this one will be no exception. There will be stories from the people who designed it, the people who built it, the people who work in it, and the people who will come to it to receive unprecedented care and healing. But no matter who tells the story, it will always be centered on you – the people who helped make this building a reality.

“When the world says give up, Hope whispers try it one more time.”

Family Campaign Jennie Sealy Hospital Beam Signing

Family Campaign Jennie Sealy Hospital Beam Signing

Jennie Sealy Hospital opens April 9, 2016.