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$61 millions in, children's hospital fundraisers step up game

Feb. 17, 2013
Rendering of The Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida.
Rendering of The Children's Hospital of Southwest Florida.

About the project

Plans call for a five-story, 128-bed children’s hospital next to HealthPark Medical Center, which houses the existing 98-bed facility.
• B. Thomas Golisano, founder of Paychex Inc.: $20 million*
• The Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest: $10 million **
• Lee Healthcare Resources Inc.: $5 million
• Dave and Cheryl Copham: $1 million
• Health Management Associates: $750,000
*A challenge grant that will match up to $20 million in donations
**The Wine & Food Fest has pledged this over seven years. To date, it’s provided nearly half the amount.
The Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest takes place Friday and Saturday. .
Tuesday: Chefs and vintners donate lots of time to the festival. Why?
Wednesday: Volunteers help make the festival succeed . Also, we offer a wine primer in Taste.
Thursday: Get a closer look at how the festival makes a difference .
Friday: Prepping of vitner dinners began weeks ago.
Saturday: We search for some of the most extreme — and costly — wines in Southwest Florida. Get live coverage of the vintner dinners and online updates from the Grand Tasting and Auction
Sunday: Coverage of the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest Grand Tasting & Auction.


Southwest Florida’s big-money fundraisers have a compelling sales pitch: The region needs a new hospital to treat more sick children, and $125 million in private donations — roughly half the project’s cost — will make that happen.

It is a message Lee Memorial Health System, which operates the 98-bed Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida, has used to raise more than $61 million in cash and firm commitments, nearly half of its goal.

The project’s top fundraiser said Friday that potential donations by the end of this summer, now under negotiation and subject to matching donations, could quickly drive that figure beyond $81 million.

This week, one of the biggest givers, the Southwest Florida Wine and Food Fest, hopes to add at least another $2 million in donations.

“I’m overwhelmed by the generosity of the people in our community,” said Joe Catti, president and CEO of FineMark National Bank & Trust, chairman of the fundraising campaign. “What better cause is there than to provide service and support to children and families?”

Donors can state how they would like their money directed, and special fundraisers can specify what the money will be used for. While much of the effort has been to get the new hospital built, millions of dollars have been raised and spent on specialty hospital equipment such as incubator beds for the neonatal intensive care unit.

Lee Memorial Health System plans to break ground this fall on a five-story, 128-bed children’s hospital adjacent to HealthPark Medical Center, which houses the existing 98-bed children’s hospital. If all goes as planned, the new hospital would open in 2016.

Expected project costs have evolved over the past year from a rough $250 million estimate to the current prediction of $242 million, about $191 million of which would be the construction.

Big donations include a $10 million commitment from the wine and food fest, one of this region’s primary fundraisers. The annual event has raised about $5.3 million for the hospital since 2009.

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It hopes to meet or beat last year’s take of $2 million, about $1.5 million of which went to the hospital project, said Dr. Steve Machiz, founding chairman of the event.

“We only have our history to go on,” Machiz said. “Each year we have exceeded what we’ve done before despite a down economy.”

On Wednesday health system officials announced a $5 million pledge from the nonprofit Lee Healthcare Resources. It had revealed another $1 million donation from Lee County residents Dave and Cheryl Copham only five days before.

Of course, the big prize was the $20 million challenge grant last year from philanthropist B. Thomas Golisano, for whom the existing, and soon-to-be-built, Children’s Hospital is now named.

Golisano has said that he decided to make the gift only after it became clear the community donations would meet the rest of the fundraising goal.

Though wealthy donors will play a disproportionate role in the campaign, the effort has looked to small donors to help fill the gaps.

More than 83 percent, or 4,370 contributors, have given $1,000 or less, records show. Just more than two dozen have given $100,000 or more.

Among the low-profile givers is the family of Steve Brown, a member of the health system’s board and a retired physician. The Browns have given $350,000 to Children’s Hospital causes, including a $100,000 pledge last year for the building project.

“We’ve always had a soft spot for children,” Brown said. But, he added, he was not initially sure the health system would be able to generate the needed funds.

“I hate to tell you, I didn’t think we’d be able to do it,” he said. “I just thought it was a lot of money.”

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