One year after unveiling plans for the costliest construction project and most ambitious fund-raising goal in Vineyard history, leaders at the Martha's Vineyard Hospital announced this week that they have amassed a stunning $20 million in pledged donations, nearly half the $42 million needed to build a new hospital at the Linton Lane campus in Oak Bluffs.
The announcement, which sets a record for fundraising in the history of the Island, marks the formal start of the capital campaign to build a new hospital. Among other things the campaign calls for a new name: the Martha's Vineyard Community Hospital.
"It's about addressing the growing and changing needs of the Vineyard community . . . Hence the new name," declares the catchy full-page advertisement that appears on the back page of the hospital annual report, released today in the Vineyard Gazette.
The plan calls for raising the entire $42 million sum solely from private donations. Construction on a three-story, 19-bed hospital is set to begin in the fall of 2006.
While hospital trustees and senior managers declined this week to name specific donors, the two chairmen of the capital campaign committee described a pivotal meeting in March in New York city when a core group of eight people with strong ties to the Island sat down and committed significant chunks of money and promised to generate more pledges.
"That winter meeting was really catalytic and a very gratifying moment," Frank Biondi, the co-chairman of the fund-raising committee, told the Gazette yesterday. "People stepped up and got it. We were about a quarter of the way there, and this put us in really good shape."
Some single pledges were as much as $1 million and $2 million apiece, hospital officials said yesterday. They also reported that the Island Trust for Medical Care will contribute all of its money to the capital campaign. Established by a small group of Vineyard residents who steered an emergency board of trustees that rescued the hospital from financial collapse nearly eight years ago, the trust was originally set up as a special reserve fund when the hospital was in Chapter 11 bankruptcy. There is $675,000 in the trust fund.
The March meeting this year took place at the midtown Manhattan office of the other committee co-chairman, Warren Spector, president and a chief operating officer at the investment firm Bear Stearns. Both Mr. Spector and Mr. Biondi, the former head of both Viacom and Universal Pictures, own homes on the Vineyard.
"We had a handful of potential lead donors who came together and at that moment everyone in the room committed. We were going to make sure that this happened," Mr. Spector said yesterday. "People were willing to make personal contributions and say, ‘I will personally make sure we get others in the boat with us.' "
They also set a date of July 1 to hit the $20 million target in pledges, launching the campaign for the remaining $22 million just as the summer season shifts into high gear.
"We needed to see if we had the support of the community and the larger donors," said hospital board vice chairman Tim Sweet. "Right out of the box, we needed to look for leadership gifts."
"There is no endeavor more critical to the health and welfare of all of us who have chosen the Vineyard to live or visit, than rebuilding our threadbare Island hospital," wrote hospital board chairman John Ferguson in a letter to the community published in the annual report.
The current hospital building dates to 1974 and is in extremely poor condition. Buckets are routinely placed in hallways when it rains.
The start of the capital campaign comes less than a month after financial statements were released showing that both the hospital and Windemere Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center, an 81-bed skilled nursing home, are operating in the black. After successive years of losses, Windemere posted operating income of about $62,000 this past year. Operating income at the hospital came in around $652,000.
The numbers stand in sharp contrast to the gloomy economic picture of the previous decade. In the early 1990s, the hospital embarked on building a $5 million endowment from private donations and then proceeded to spend most of the money as management and board governance fell into disarray. A little more than five years ago, both the hospital and Windemere found themselves emerging from different stages of bankruptcy.
But now, the timing of good fiscal news couldn't be better as Mr. Biondi and Mr. Spector roll up their sleeves for a capital campaign that eclipses all others in Island history.
Until this latest initiative, the $5 million endowment campaign - which fell $200,000 short of its target - was the largest fund-raising effort on the Island. The $18 million addition to the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School has been the most expensive public building project so far, but the school was built by state and taxpayer money, not private contributions.
"[Donors] have not been approached on this Island for anything of this magnitude before," Mr. Spector said.
"My least favorite thing in life is going and asking friends for large sums of money," said Mr. Biondi. "The more difficult part has been clearing up a lot of the mythology that goes to the hospital of seven, eight, 10 years ago. But there's been a transformation that's palpable."
Indeed, the sales pitch to potential donors is at least three-pronged. First, capital campaign leaders want to convince people - both the well-heeled summer crowd and the year-round population - that the hospital has cleaned up its finances.
Secondly, Mr. Spector advances the logic that a new hospital building will actually improve the fiscal condition, eliminating the maintenance costs and headaches that currently plague the old structure and reducing operational costs in areas such as energy efficiency.
Finally, there is the simple argument that this capital campaign is a one-shot deal.
"In our conversations with donors, we're telling them that yes, there are a lot of things worthy of attention on the Island, but we're not going to come back to you again," said Mr. Spector.
Unlike efforts from four years ago, when the hospital turned to Island taxpayers with a plan to shore up the operational revenue of the emergency room, this initiative is strictly geared toward bricks and mortar.
"Speaking from the hospital management point of view, our intention is not to go to the tax base. This is a total philanthropic exercise, and that makes us work harder," said Mr. Sweet. "You have better done your homework."
Last year, project architect Marc Rowland, a partner with Thomas Miller & Partners in Brentwood, Tenn., showed schematics for the new building that include a new emergency room, two operating rooms and dedicated spaces for radiology, laboratory, surgery, obstetrics, acute care and intensive care.
The new building will be merged with the rear portion of the old 1929 cottage hospital, and the entrance will face Beach Road. Plans call for an environmentally friendly and efficient "green" building, low on maintenance and high on natural light to promote healing.
Patient rooms will all be private. The plan also calls for renovating the existing, circa 1972 hospital building for use as medical office space. Construction is planned so that all medical services will continue at the hospital without interruption.
In August of 2003 when the plan was first unveiled, the cost was estimated at $30 million. A few months later, as the plan took shape, the price tag shot up to $50 million.
The trimmed down price of $42 million includes $1.2 million for renovating the existing hospital building, and it also includes a five per cent contingency. The new building is currently planned at 89,000 square feet, a per-square-foot price of about $355.
"This is an incredibly important moment for the hospital and the Island," Mr. Ferguson wrote in his letter. "What seemed impossible just a short time ago now seems totally within our grasp. I hope everyone will join us in our campaign to begin anew."