Great works are performed not by strength, but by perseverance.

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemLast Friday, before the formal Jennie Sealy Dedication Ceremony, I had the opportunity to join Dr. Callender, Dr. Jacobs and Ms. Sadro in welcoming to a luncheon the many dignitaries and benefactors who joined us on the Galveston campus. From state representatives to current and former University of Texas System Chancellors, from members of the UT System Board of Regents members to the Sealy & Smith Foundation Board and the Moody Foundation Board, a large and distinguished group of individuals joined in the day’s celebrations.

That momentous day, as I spoke in front of the group and recounted to them our journey, I felt a tremendous sense of pride in our people. So many of you have stood by UTMB throughout its recovery, renewal and growth after Hurricane Ike. I shared in the great feelings success we all feel about opening the doors of our beautiful new hospital to our patients and their guests on April 9. The Jennie Sealy Hospital represents the effort of so many people who put in thousands of hours of work, developing plans and working to garner the necessary support to begin construction.

It was a year and a day before I began working at UTMB that Hurricane Ike made landfall on Galveston Island. I remember watching the evening news before the storm struck. The forecast was grim. Just before midnight on Friday, September 12, 2008, I received a message from Dr. David Marshall, who was my friend and UTMB’s Chief Operating Officer at the time.

“I am headed to bed for the night. Pray for us.”

I went to bed that night with David’s message on my mind. I thought about the day prior, when UTMB staff had safely evacuated its patients – 471 patients to be exact. Then, they worked to secure the campus, even as storm surge approached. By the time I received David’s message, essential staff were waiting to ride out the storm. Hurricane Ike’s arrival was only hours away.

At 2 a.m., September 13, the eye of the storm passed over UTMB. Although Ike was considered only a Category 2 storm, its size made it one of the most devastating hurricanes in recent U.S. history (it was 70% larger than an average hurricane). In the days that followed, I watched the news with grave concern. Aerial footage showed places on Galveston Island where flood waters had reached nearly 20 feet. Interstate 45 was littered by boats. Homes had been washed entirely off their foundation. I couldn’t believe the magnitude of the devastation.

Town Hall Meeting, October 7, 2008

Town Hall Meeting, October 7, 2008

Nearly a month later, on October 7, I watched a video posted to UTMB’s website of Dr. Callender’s first Town Hall meeting after the storm. He calmly reassured the community that UTMB would be rebuilt, and it would emerge stronger than before. I am certain, at the time, people appreciated the words but had some doubts about whether or not this would truly happen. By then, people across the state were already seriously questioning whether or not UTMB should be rebuilt on the island.

But despite the storm’s damage and all of the naysayers who said UTMB should be closed forever, UTMB’s employees and students courageously marched on, wearing a smile as they helped clean up the campus. The old motto from the Great Storm of 1900 was adopted and prevailed: “UTMB stops for no storm.”

Hurricane Ike Commemoration, September 13, 2009 - Flag Raising

Hurricane Ike Commemoration, September 13, 2009 – Flag Raising

My first day as an employee at UTMB, I remember standing in the grassy area between John Sealy Hospital and the Administration Building to watch the UTMB flag being raised during the Hurricane Ike Commemoration Ceremony. It was an emotional and triumphant day for all of the brave and tenacious students, employees, and faculty who remained so passionately dedicated to rebuilding UTMB on Galveston Island.

John Sealy Hospital had been reopened only nine months ago at the time. One day at noon, I visited the MICU. The area was bustling with activity, and a nurse hurried out of the break room, chewing her last bite of lunch. I said to her, “You all are really busy today.”

Her response was not what I expected: “Yes, isn’t it wonderful that we have our patients back?”

Meanwhile, the pharmacy was still functioning but now out of a patient unit. The usual technology to support its work was absent—there was no robot, no medication carousel, nothing. Just determined pharmacists and technicians who filled hundreds of prescriptions a day with the same degree of accuracy as they had before. The kitchen still occupied a large tent on the top level of the Plaza Garage. Surgical instruments took a 120-mile round trip ride to Sugar Land each day to be sterilized.

Despite these challenges, everyone continued forward with hope and faith, and UTMB quickly moved from recovery into a new era, focused on progress and growth. Here we are today, four years after breaking ground on this hospital. Standing in Jennie Sealy Hospital feels nothing short of a miracle!

I also told these tremendous supporters of UTMB that we had designed our new hospital, first and foremost, with the patient in mind. We had involved nurses, physicians and staff in every step of the design process to ensure the facility would support patient care delivery. We involved students, residents and program leaders in our plans to assure the building would adequately support UTMB’s educational mission, and we identified space to support clinical research.

I told them about how much we had benefited by engaging our patients and the community in the design process. Their feedback added to—and even sometimes challenged—what we had envisioned from an administrative perspective. I told them about the separate zones in the patient rooms for clinical staff, the patient and their family, as well as the wonderful amenities we included thanks to their suggestions, like the specific model of sofa bed and a small refrigerator.

Jennie Sealy

Jennie Sealy Hospital – Community Open House, February 27, 2016

While Jennie Sealy Hospital is UTMB’s gift to the community, it would not have been possible without so many people who stepped forward to help. Students traveled to Austin to talk with legislators about UTMB’s importance. Our staff, alumni and community members advocated for UTMB at public hearings. Our elected officials listened to and championed our cause. The UT System believed in the importance of UTMB’s role in patient care and educating medical professionals in the state. So many people contributed to UTMB’s renewal and growth.

It was an honor to formally thank the Sealy & Smith Foundation, who made an extraordinary and visionary lead gift, signaling to the State of Texas their strong commitment to rebuilding UTMB and assuring excellent care on Galveston Island. It was an honor to thank the Moody Foundation, who are dedicated to supporting our work in managing complex patients and assuring that we have state-of-the-art facilities, equipment and programs to support that care.

I would be remiss if I did not also acknowledge the contributions so many of you, UTMB’s own employees and faculty, who together donated over $11 million to UTMB’s Family Campaign. Your contributions represent how passionately you care about and believe in UTMB. These combined contributions will help thousands of patients and families for many years to come.

There is a quote that I believe captures the essence of what each of you has helped UTMB accomplish:

“It’s impossible,” said pride.

“It’s risky,” said experience.

“It’s pointless,” said reason.

“Give it a try,” whispered the heart.

Thanks to each one of you here today who listened to the whispers of your heart.



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.


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!


Like a Drop of Water

Donna Sollenberger, EVP & CEO, UTMB Health SystemThis week, I attended the second UTMB Family Campaign Beam Signing, which was held at the Specialty Care Center at Victory Lakes for UTMB employees who contributed to the campaign. As everyone gathered around the large steel beam to sign their names, I thought about how the beam will be displayed in the stairwell of the new hospital as a visible reminder of the many people at UTMB who supported the effort to build the Jennie Sealy Hospital. Signing the beam is a symbolic gesture. Each name on the beam represents an individual’s commitment to improve health in the communities UTMB serves, while the beam itself represents the collective gift of more than 3,900 employees who have raised $8.1 million toward the new hospital.

I also thought about how in the future, that collective commitment will continue to have an impact far greater than we might imagine it to be today. After all, many years ahead, some of the individuals who contributed to the campaign may be part of new organizations, and some may have moved to live in a new city or state without occasion to return to Galveston. These individuals may never actually see how their contribution made a difference or fully comprehend its magnitude, but it will most certainly change the lives of many patients and families who receive outstanding care within the walls of the new facility.

This triggered a memory of an experience I had after building a previous hospital. It was a children’s hospital, and shortly after it opened, one of my son’s close friends had just had a baby, who experienced complications. The child was immediately transferred to the new hospital where he was quickly diagnosed and began extensive treatment for a metabolic disorder. Prior to the new hospital, the child would have been transferred hours away from home to receive care, and an already trying experience would have been even more challenging for the family. In the worst case scenario, the child could have lost his life. For me, it was a meaningful experience to see firsthand how the new hospital had a major impact on a family’s life and the life of a patient.

Like a drop of water that never reaches the shore, but creates ripples that extend outward, our impact on the world will likely be greater than we imagine it today. Whatever our role at UTMB, most of us have chosen the field of health care to make a difference. We want to spend the time we must away from home doing something that has great meaning to us. Leaving a legacy doesn’t mean that we have to give more than we can afford; it doesn’t mean that we must achieve tremendous feats like becoming president or composing a masterpiece. It doesn’t matter what we do as long as we leave the world a better place than we found it and have demonstrated our values in a way that will have meaning to future generations.

So many people at every level reinforced the hard work and dedication they demonstrate every day with their generosity. Thank you to each and every member of the UTMB Health community who participated in the 2012 UTMB Family Campaign, Working Together the Future is Ours. You have made a difference!

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” —Margaret Mead