The sign read “Sobrato Pavilion.” But the message was “progress.”
Eight years after the voters of Santa Clara County overwhelming approved the construction of a new, earthquake-safe hospital wing at VMC, the building is finally taking shape. And now, it has formally been dedicated for one of the valley’s best known and beloved philanthropists.
In 2012, John and Sue Sobrato made a then record-breaking gift to the VMC Foundation to support construction of the new facility. The $5 million donation was matched by additional contributions from the community, providing needed resources to help outfit the building with the best equipment, technology and patient-friendly amenities.
A crowd of 100, including Santa Clara County Supervisor Joe Simitian and Supervisor Mike Wasserman, join the Sobrato family for a special event to formally unveil the “Sobrato Pavilion” signage on the exterior of the building.
“It’s a great day for VMC, and we would not be here without the generosity and support of the Sobrato family,” said VMC Foundation CEO Chris Wilder.
The 370,000 square foot facility will house a variety of services, including VMCs renowned physical rehabilitation center for patients with major spinal cord and brain injuries. Just as important, it will provide extra security in the event of a major earthquake.
Construction is set to be complete by summer 2017 and open to patients later that year. For the staff and patients at SCVMC, it can not come soon enough, making this small milestone a welcome bit of news.
For more information about the Sobrato Pavilion, click here, and check out the pictures from the November 22 event below.
There is an adage that goes “success has a thousand parents; failure is an orphan”. This, obviously, speaks to people and organizations who seek credit for a good thing happening. Sometimes that’s unjustified and unfair.
But what about when a great success really does come about because so many stood up and stepped up? That’s powerful and profound, and that’s exactly what happened in Santa Clara County this summer and fall…and the victory came together the night of November 8, 2016, when Measure A was approved by the voters.
…not that we knew it at the time.
We needed 66.67% to win, and it took nearly two weeks to certify that we won with 67.67%. Obviously, we won by a very, VERY narrow margin of a single percentage point.
A reminder, in case you’re late to this party: Measure A provides $950,000,000 to build supportive housing, low-income housing and to help first-time home-buyers. The lion’s share, paid for with a property tax increase, will kick Silicon Valley’s homelessness crisis to the curb. That crisis is arguably the worst in the nation, and county voters demonstrated on Election Day that they have heart, they want to help, and they embrace the common good. Considering the results at the top of the ticket, this victory and the compassion it reveals is extremely important.
What’s also electrifying is the number of non-profit organizations that got involved, many for the first time. To do that, their leadership needed to confront and reject a myth that 501c3 tax-exempt charities cannot “do politics”. I’ve written about this myth before, and this summer and fall after jumping in head-first to this effort, I worked to educate and urge my colleagues in the “public benefit sector” that contributing time, talent and treasure to Measure A was
- Perfectly legal;
- A moral obligation;
- A path to your own success, and;
- The only way we were going to win.
Let’s explore these four areas a little…and at the end, I’ll explain why.
Perfectly Legal. That is, if you follow the rules. No big deal; we do it every day. It’s legal to drive your Corvette 70MPH. But only on some roads. If you’re sober. And you’re a licensed driver. Rules…we learn them and abide by them. In the case of charities and elections, California’s rules are quite clear: Your charity cannot officially support a candidate, but you can support a non-partisan initiative or measure so long as it relates to your mission (why homelessness and health care are related should be evident, but if it’s not don’t worry: It will be by the end of this essay).
The general rule is 20%–that is, a nonprofit charity can donate 20% of their annual budget to a ballot initiative in California, and spend right around that much staff time advocating. There are reporting requirements that get a little complex, but not nearly as complex as, say, your annual audit! Again, it’s a matter of learning the rules and following them. If you’re lucky and can afford it, a nonprofit or election lawyer is smart to engage…or better yet, talk one into joining your board!
Here is a great place to start to learn the details of campaign/lobbying rules…and remember, rules change all the time, so don’t just rely on one source of information.
A Moral Obligation. Those who work for/run nonprofits do so to get rich and buy jet airplanes. Kidding! We are fiercely dedicated to the idea of reconfiguring parts of the world for the betterment of others. We love animals and want them safe. We detest prejudice and injustice. We want to slow climate change so it doesn’t destroy Florida. Or, in the case of Measure A, we feel that everyone deserves a place to live and that homelessness is worth fighting.
None of that makes us saints or even unusual. People who run hotels and who sell falafel for a living also care about these things…if they didn’t, Measure A wouldn’t have passed. But here’s the difference: If you work for a homeless shelter or a food bank, you understand the issue WAY better than the average person. If you and your agency sit on the sidelines while the community discusses supportive housing, the issue and level of discourse is short-changed. Your voice is necessary. Your opinion piece in the newspaper is vital. Your agency’s money is a bit greener. Your endorsement counts…more than that of others. Not getting involved is simply not okay.
A Path to Your Own Success. Homelessness, for example, is sad and awful. That’s why people are compelled to help. Also, homelessness is expensive. I knew the number was big, having spent time with so many providers, but even I was shocked when I learned that Santa Clara Valley Medical Center (the hospital my agency supports) spent nine hundred million dollars over a four-year period providing care for people who are homeless. Add in other county (tax-payer provided) interventions like law enforcement and social services, and you’ll find we spend over five hundred million in just one year, not counting the program budgets of the dozens of nonprofits on the front lines.
And the real tragedy? People are, generally speaking, NOT getting better. How could they? Managing people’s chronic health conditions while they’re living in a creek bed? Helping people with mental health conditions while they’re living under a freeway overpass? What the ping pong balls do we expect? This is why the housing first model makes logical sense, and why so many nonprofits ultimately came aboard the Measure A Campaign: Working hard to serve people whose lives aren’t measurably improved by your service is soul-crushing—among people like doctors, nurses and social workers whose hearts and souls are huge.
Fundamentally, the heroes of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center—along with my colleagues who run nonprofits like HomeFirst, The Health Trust, Destination Home, Momentum for Mental Health, Catholic Charities…they care about people. When asked why a hospital foundation was all-in on a homelessness measure, I would often site those great agencies and say “I want their work to work better.”
The Only Way We’re Going to Win. Like it or not, campaigns are expensive. Cheap compared to the homelessness crisis, but still. We faced the longest ballot in California history, and local measures are way, way down near the bottom. To earn the attention and vote of enough Santa Clara County residents this year, we figured we’d need to raise a million and a half bucks. At least.
But here’s the problem, which is really the central message of this rambling treatise: Lots of nonprofits didn’t even know they could get involved! What an untapped resource (I reasoned), and opportunity to exceed those fundraising goals. By the time I jumped in, our badass County Supervisor Cindy Chavez had already convinced several charities to give big, and the VMC Foundation immediately endorsed and gave (gulp) $100,000. This was not funny-money; this was operational reserve. This was a risk.
Now, we’d done that before and more than once, so I also saw that my obligation was to help educate other 501c3’s that they needed to ante up. Boy, did they ever! By November the Measure A Campaign had raised a whopping $2.3 million. There has never been a time in Silicon Valley where more nonprofits joined housing developers, wealthy progressives and other stakeholders to amass such a war chest. All that money was turned into direct mail to voters, radio, TV, YouTube, and (not making this up) 15,000 cookies given out on college campuses…anything really, to rise above the Clinton/Trump noise and Be Heard. We also hired seasoned campaign professionals – the best we could find.
The nonprofit community stepped up in other important ways. Many of us are members of the San Jose Silicon Valley Chamber of Commerce, and together, we convinced them to withdraw their initial opposition to Measure A. We wrote letters to editors, penned opinion pieces for every newspaper in the valley, and spoke at every community gathering we could find. Closer to November 8, we got on the phones and never stopped dialing. We pounded the pavement with literature. We went bananas on social media. If not bananas, then
Election Night, November 8, 2016. The shock of Donald Trump’s victory muted what would have otherwise been a great celebration: Measure A passed—by a hair. This is revealing on a number of fronts. First, we needed every agency, every donor, every dollar to win. Had any of our handful of six-figure contributors sat on the sidelines, we likely would have lost. And because giving means commitment, agencies that contributed were also there with volunteers walking and phoning. It took every one of them to get us across that goal line.
Second, this victory speaks to who we are in Silicon Valley. With civility and compassion in short supply nationally, we dig deep and find it here. We’ve done it before, many times, for similar reasons: If Washington won’t help us solve problems, we’ll solve them ourselves. For example, with the election of George W. Bush in 2000, Santa Clara County leaders realized no one was going to help us provide care to underserved kids. Thus, the Children’s Health Initiative was created by county officials, labor leaders and funders who responded to the problem and built an innovative solution to it. Years later, it would be replicated by most counties in the state. Years still later, Governor Brown made it the law of the land. As a result, every child in California has access to health coverage.
That’s a major triumph, right? That’s why my third and final point is that we must keep the band together. Pundits and newspapers described Measure A as “game-changing”, a “hail Mary pass”, “staggeringly ambitious” and “unprecedented.” Every nonprofit who joined the coalition should feel proud and electrified, because all of us, together, made it happen. I’ve already described how every ounce of energy and every dime donated was necessary to win, so now let’s ask the obvious question: What’s next?
Keeping a coalition together is never easy, but the “other” major event of November 8 reveals that we simply must. If Trump’s promise to repeal the Affordable Care Act is actuated, if persecution of specific religious groups is encouraged, if trickle-down economics widens even further the economic canyon swallowing more and more in our community…well, you get it. We’ve got our work cut out for us.
So, even loosely, we nonprofits have to stay united to further the progressive policies on which we agree. We have become a multi-celled customizable action tank for addressing needs. As the greatest needs emerge, and as solutions are proposed, and to the degree those solutions require a massive coalition of idealistic leaders, we must be ready and be together. If you’ve read this far, you may very well be one of those idealistic leaders. We’ve proven we can do amazing things. You are awesome. We are awesome. Let’s meet for coffee soon. I’ll buy.
VMC is one of just 60 rehabilitation programs nationwide utilizing Ekso, a revolutionary exoskeleton robot, to help patients with brain and spinal cord injuries. With its motorized legs and backpack computer, Ekso gives hope to patients who fear they will never walk again.
This technology recently made a difference for Stacie Byars, a 52 year-old Seattle-based marketing consultant. While in Redwood City on business, Stacie suffered a stroke which left her paralyzed on her left side. She was brought to VMC for acute rehabilitation.
Stacie’s rehab team used Ekso early in her therapy program. Her physical therapist, Amy Millan, DPT, explains, “Ekso can help patients like Stacie walk earlier, gain confidence and develop muscle memory.” Amy adds, “Many patients like Stacie are afraid to take those first steps. In Ekso, the robot supports them and they learn about the movements of walking with confidence.”
Stacie shared, “The first time I used Ekso, it was rough. After that, there was a big leap forward. I felt powerful! It was definitely the beginning of my walking.”
The VMC Foundation has provided nearly $75,000 for Ekso upgrades and staff training. Read more about how charitable donations are being put to good use at VMC in our Fall 2016 Impact Report.
On Thursday, October, 13, VMC Foundation CEO Chris Wilder was honored by People Acting in Community Together (PACT) as the 2016 Top Community Builder. This recognition was bestowed on Chris for his leadership and commitment to the health and well-being of the Silicon Valley community through many roles and causes over the past 25 years. PACT is a multicultural, multi-faith, grassroots organization the empowers everyday people to create a more healthy and just community.
Chris was recognized alongside John Tortora, COO of the San Jose Sharks.
Below is a transcript of his remarks to the 500+ guests in attendance at the Santa Clara Convention Center.
Thank you Leah [Toeniskoetter who introduced me], our Board of Directors past and present, our amazing staff past and present, friends and family.
My pal J and I went out Sunday to Los Gatos and dropped literature for Measure A. (show measure A). While doing this, we were able to reminisce about our time in the late 80’s/early 90’s doing door-to-door canvassing. The real stuff: Not just leaving a flyer, but actually knocking on doors. Not just gathering signatures or votes, but raising money! How many of you have done this? [many hands raised].
This is super hard work; the hardest way to raise money I know. J and I were laughing about all the stories, the things that happen to you when you’re knocking on doors…from being totally ignored, or being threatened with a trespassing lawsuit, to verbal abuse to unwanted sexual advances – and that’s just when you knock on Donald Trump’s door!
Sorry, I didn’t write that; these jokes write themselves.
Anyway, it’s no wonder canvassing is hard – you knock on someone’s door at 6:30 at night, they’re trying to feed the baby! And the toddler! They just got home, they’re tired. They’re certainly not expecting YOU…never once did I knock on someone’s door and have them say “you know, I was just thinking about the reauthorization of the clean water act, hoping someone would come by and engage me civically!”
And yet, on any given night, a canvasser could expect to raise a couple hundred bucks and sign up five new members of the group. Then we’d go to Sacramento and meet with senators and show them how many of their constituents cared about this or that issue—cared so much, in fact, they were willing to give fifty bucks to this hippy stranger who just showed up on their front door! And then in 1990 Anna Eshoo came to our office and said, “You know, I lost my race for congress two years ago and I want to run again, and you guys go door-to-door in what would be MY district, so you probably know the electorate better than me – what can you teach me?” I was 22. That was cool. Then of course, she did get elected and has served in Congress to this day, representing—in my view—the public interest very powerfully.
So the point here is that this work matters and people really do care! If they didn’t, disasters like Flint Michigan’s water supply would happen more often. Powerful people who put their interests over public interest would win more often, thanks to people like you and organizations like PACT, this is a better place to live than it would be otherwise. The fact that people care is the reason that, if I deserve this honor at all, then we all deserve it. People give to the VMC Foundation not because of me, but because VMC is a jewel, essential for all who live here. Let’s be clear: I don’t save lives! Doctors like Balaji Govindaswami, SCVMC’s Chief of Newborn Care is sitting there, and over there is Dr. Gregg Adams, our Chief of Surgery, and there’s lifelong RN Sue Kehl, the Director of Women and Childrens’ Health…THEY save lives! And our leaders like CEO Paul Lorenz sitting right there, and COO Benita McLaren who run the place…what do I do? I TALK about it all! And ALL the caregivers are amazing, and everyone deserves quality health care…and guys like John Tortora and the Sharks and SAP care as much about the community as they do about winning hockey games. That’s why I don’t deserve this award unless you all deserve it too. And you do.
I’d like to close with a word about RISK. In the late 80’s I left a potentially safe career in hotel management and fell into political organizing. And 13 years ago I joined the VMC Foundation despite having exactly zero knowledge about medical care. And yes, I raise money in unconventional ways…and so people say “wow, you’re willing to risk!”
Maybe…but I’m frankly a little tired of successful, wealthy, well educated, straight white men telling rooms-full of people that they need to be willing to risk. Because that’s not fair. If you’re struggling to feed your kids and pay the rent, and you have no savings and you don’t have a college education, then your opportunities to risk and throw caution to the wind are pretty limited. If you don’t have a spouse like I do, willing to support my risky moves, then the risks may be too high. Kate and I don’t have kids, we’re not a paycheck away from a shelter, so I’m lucky enough that I get to risk.
But organizations like PACT give folks a chance to risk, by putting themselves in unfamiliar and scary situations, and to band together to get things done—without undue risk in a world that doesn’t always reward it.
So yes, I do this work because I am lucky and I get to. And because bad things are wrong, and somebody should do something about everything. Or, put slightly more eloquently by Bobby Kennedy in 1966 in a speech to students in South Africa that I only learned about in 1999:
Each time a [person] stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, [they send] forth a tiny ripple of hope. And crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.
Thank you PACT, for sending forth those ripples, and thank you all, for helping build that current. I’m honored and grateful.
It’s not every day that you get a ringing endorsement from one of Silicon Valley’s most influential companies, but today is the day.
Facebook (you’ve heard of them?) has a product manager whose son spent weeks at VMC’s renowned Burn Center earlier this year. That’s a hard place to be, obviously, but the care you can expect to get there if you ever need it is fantastic.
So much so, and so impressed was Ms. Budaraju, that she wrote a piece on what she learned about teamwork from the Burn Center. It’s a marvelous and well-written piece, and the information contained crosses nearly every job, every sector I can think of.
So, I invite you to read her excellent post and apply what she learned – what VMC’s Burn Center exhibits – to YOUR work. I know I will!
The first thing that visitors see when they arrive on the 5th floor of Santa Clara Valley Medical Center is not much at all – an elevator lobby, white walls and linoleum. It’s a place to walk to and from and nothing more. The revitalization of this small space will be the catalyst for efforts to transform the entire current “Main Hospital” into San Jose’s first Women and Children’s Center… all thanks to a little girl named Nora.
Nora was born on December 11, 2009, in San Francisco. “Within months, she was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension. Because of her diagnosis, she became very experienced in hospital visits and longer stays. She passed away on November 22, 2013, in Palo Alto.
Her parents, Thomas and Claire, were Nora’s greatest champions, and since her passing have become fierce advocates for hospital safety and children’s health issues.
With the support of family, friends and co-workers, Thomas and Claire created a fund at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation to honor Nora’s memory. That effort brought them to VMC for the first time, and to the bland elevator lobby on the 5th floor.
Understanding the need for families to have safe and engaging spaces to visit during their hospital stay, they proposed a small library area for kids to read books with their parents. It was an idea close to their hearts.
“Nora especially loved reading books,” shared Thomas. “We hope the space will offer an escape from the hospital setting for children and their families. We want it to be a place where patients can read books alone or with their parents. They can have a quiet spot outside their rooms to relax.”
Soon, when visitors arrive on the 5th floor, they’ll be greeted by a warm, welcoming space filled with books and cozy places to sit and read. The library will be a fulcrum for a remodeled lobby and hallway, outdoor patio and a small, multi-purpose room that will preview a grander transformation of the entire 5th floor and building. The family and patient experience will be permanently altered, all for the better.
It’s a fitting legacy for Nora that will benefit VMC families for decades.
To learn more, visit www.imaginevmc.org.
Promoting healthy food choices has been at the core of The Health Trust’s efforts to confront Santa Clara County’s ongoing obesity and diabetes crisis. At VMC, that’s meant funding a weekly Farmer’s Market on campus, and now – thanks to a $250,000 gift – transforming the only café in the future Women and Children’s Center into a fun and appealing source of healthy food for kids and their families.
Modeled after the nationally recognize café do-over at the Children’s Discovery Museum (CDM) in downtown San Jose – a project that was also funded in part by The Health Trust – the current VMC space will get a physical and menu upgrade. At the CDM, a generic, junk-food dependent space that had all the charm of an airport food court was replaced by a beautiful restaurant that promotes health eating using design, color and a novel menu. Healthy eating is not presented as an option (a la ordering a “diet” soda) – it is the only option. Yet, offered in a way that promotes the inherent quality and deliciousness of the food, and not as a “take-your-medicine” necessity.
It’s an approach that suits VMC well, where high standards for healthy food options already exist. The current space, however, needs a major face-lift. And there is an added benefit to adding a revitalized café to San Jose’s first Women and Children’s Center, beyond the people served. It sends a message that healthy eating is a cornerstone to health. Indeed, the new café will literally be in the corner of the building’s ground floor.
Work on the café will commence in 2017.
To learn more about the campaign for a Women and Children’s Center, visit www.imaginevmc.org.
The alert reader of this blog will remember two years ago when we celebrated the five-years of VMC’s Medical Legal Partnership Clinic. This is the innovative idea that, sometimes, a lawyer can solve your medical problem better than a doctor!
Intrigued by that concept? So were we in 2009, and so was FIRST 5 Santa Clara County which funded this great partnership and kept it going for five years.
Sometimes, it takes that long to prove a concept…but the good news is that in Santa Clara County, especially at Valley Medical Center, a proven concept leads to my favorite word: SUSTAINABILITY.
After hundreds of patients helped, fueled by donations from FIRST 5, the leadership of VMC asked the County to make the Medical Legal Partnership a permanent part of its budget, and to give it a home in the new Valley Health Center Downtown.
…and that happened, and today was Opening Day! A huge congratulations to Dr. Leanna Botkin and the team at the Law Foundation Silicon Valley’s “Legal Advocates for Children and Youth” for demonstrating how this collaboration can make such a positive difference for patients who often have little recourse to improve a situation for themselves or their children.
Click here to learn more about the Medical Legal Partnership, and here to learn more about Valley Health Center Downtown, the latest jewel serving the population of our country’s tenth largest city.