Capt. Chelsey "Sully" Sullenberger discusses landing a plane on the Hudson River in New York during the Rutherford Society Gala held Jan. 12, 2013, at Embassy Suites in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Photo courtesy of the MTMC Foundation)
The people of Rutherford County stepped up and pulled out their wallets to help fund the new Middle Tennessee Medical Center, donating more than $20 million to the $267 million project.
The exciting announcement topped off Middle Tennessee Medical Center’s annual Rutherford Society Gala, held Saturday night at the Embassy Suites Hotel and Conference Center, featuring Capt. Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger III as the keynote speaker.
“I’m unaware of a charitable campaign of that size solely to come out of Rutherford County,” gala co-chairman Ted LaRoche said about the “Time to Build Up” capital campaign.
The focus of the campaign was to provide local community support for the building of the new hospital that opened Oct. 2, 2010.
Before construction began on the new 286-room hospital, Ascension Healthcare, MTMC’s parent company, dedicated $247 million to the cause. The Christy-Houston Foundation donated the first campaign gift of $10 million to name the emergency department and provide a solid foundation of support going forward.
Since then, more than 230 donors have given to the campaign to date, bringing the grand total to more than $20 million from local donations.
Many of the donations came from naming opportunities throughout the new hospital. Of the 286 patient rooms, 41 have been named in honor or in memory of families, businesses and loved ones, as has the hospital chapel, which was named by Dr. Liz Rhea.
“We are delighted to announce that community leader and retired physician, Dr. Liz Rhea, has chosen to place her name on the chapel located just inside the hospital lobby,” MTMC President Gordon Ferguson said. “Liz has been a loyal supporter of MTMC for many years, having served on the MTMC Foundation board (of directors) and also as Cancer Campaign co-chairman with Andy Womack.”
Rhea has given one of the largest individual donations to the building of the new hospital and additionally, made a second gift to the MTMC Cancer Center capital campaign. She currently serves on numerous Foundation committees, such as the Rutherford Society Gala committee and recently served as co-chair of the MTMC Foundation Cancer Center Campaign.
“It is fitting that Dr. Liz Rhea has chosen to name the chapel at MTMC, and in so doing, has given the final gift to put us over the $20 million campaign goal,” said Bill Jones, campaign chairman and area executive of Pinnacle Financial Partners. “Liz’s gift culminates five years of inviting our local friends and neighbors to partner with us in this endeavor. I am personally grateful to the campaign cabinet and each volunteer who has helped us reach this goal.”
In addition, Rhea’s gift will fund scholarships for nursing, radiation therapy and radiology technicians.
Practice makes better
MTMC’s other fundraising campaign, the Rutherford Society, honored those who donated $1,000 or more to the MTMC Foundation with the black-tie gala Saturday night.
The MTMC Foundation was established in 1984 to support and promote the quality medical services provided by the hospital and to raise and manage philanthropic gifts to the hospital.
“The purpose of the Rutherford Society was to get support for the hospital’s outreach programs of which there are too many to name” LaRoche said.
Contributions to the foundation support direct care of the poor, education, research, new equipment and facilities.
Some of those outreach programs include helping needy patients pay for the health care; funding support for cancer care; providing scholarships to nursing students; operating the Dispensary of Hope Fund, which distributes medications to patients in need; funding the George Justin Lombardi Assistance Fund, which helps MTMC patients, employees or individuals recover from life-altering situations with stop gap assistance; and the Heart Fund, which provides cardiac rehab equipment and other needs for the MTMC Wellness Center.
“All that is supported by the MTMC Foundation,” LaRoche said.
To thank those who were generous enough to donate to the cause, the Rutherford Society brought Sullenberger to speak about his experience successfully landing US Airways Flight 1549 in the Hudson River after the plane was hit by a flock of Canada geese.
“His speech was about how his life had prepared him for that moment,” LaRoche said, adding Sullenberger even tied his experience into the health care industry.
Since the “Miracle on the Hudson” Jan. 15, 2009, Sullenberger has translated his 43 years of aviation experience to medicine.
Sullenberger explained Both are high stakes fields with little margin for error.
The main difference is the rate of causalities. Aircraft accidents produce mass deaths that dominate headline while medical accidents occur slowly at a mortality rate of nearly 200,000 per year.
Sullenberger believes the key to establishing an effective safety culture, and reducing the mortality rate in medicine, is balancing accountability with learning.
Sullenberger spoke about how he had practiced for a water landing but had never actually done it before his plane was hit by the flock of geese. That practice helped both him and his co-pilot navigate the plane to safety in the 208 seconds it took to land in the Hudson River in New York.
Sullenberger applied the same systematic, knowledge-based approach that is found in aviation to health care in his speech.
“The more I study in more domains, whether it be health care or aviation ..., the more similarities I see,” Sullenberger said in a press conference before the gala. “And that the things we have learned in aviation can be applied to other fields.”
He then likened surgery to aviation and advocated taking a more systematic approach to patient safety.
“A systematic approach creates a robust system so we have good outcomes despite human errors,” Sullenberger said.
LaRoche said Sullenberger’s approach and focus on practice made sense.
“One never knows when a particular piece of knowledge will be needed,” LaRoche said.