OIL EXEC GIVES HOSPITAL DISTRICT BIGGEST DONATION
By TODD ACKERMAN
Copyright 2011 Houston Chronicle
April 21, 2011, 12:04AM
Lester Smith, a two-time cancer survivor, and his wife, Sue Smith, attend a news conference at Harris County Hospital District headquarters to announce their $15 million donation.
The Harris County Hospital District announced the largest private donation in its history Wednesday, a $15 million grant for cancer services at its new outpatient clinic.
The grant from the Lester and Sue Smith Foundation, a rare instance of medical philanthropy targeted for the poor, will fund cancer diagnostic and treatment equipment at the ambulatory center under construction at the hospital district's administrative headquarters.
"I've heard too many stories of people coming to Ben Taub Hospital when it's too late, when the cancer's already spread," said Lester Smith, a Houston oil executive and two-time cancer survivor. "I want all of Houston to receive the level of care that Sue and I receive."
Noting these are "hard economic times," Smith said he was motivated to give after learning of the hospital district's limited space and need to upgrade equipment.
Hospital district officials had asked Smith to give $2 million. Smith said he responded, "Would you be disappointed if I didn't agree to $2 million?" and they said "of course not." He said there was sobbing in the room when he said he wanted to give $15 million instead.
Public hospital giving is so rare that organizations tracking philanthropy's biggest gifts don't keep a list of such donations. The largest is thought to be a $50 million pledge grant to Parkland Health & Hospital Systems in Dallas in 2008.
"Public hospital giving is unusual, but we could start seeing a shift in that direction," said Stacy Palmer, editor of The Chronicle of Philanthropy. "I think because of the economic downturn, a new generation of donors may look more favorably on safety-net institutions."
The Smith gift is part of the hospital district's effort to change the perception that fundraising isn't necessary at tax-supported institutions, said Stephen DonCarlos, chairman of the hospital district board of managers. The gift brings the district's two-year-old campaign to $25 million of its $35 million goal.
Clinic set to open in 2012
The clinic, scheduled to open in late 2012, is expected to host about 160,000 patient care visits per year. It will be named the Smith Clinic in recognition of the gift.
Hospital district officials said Smith's gift will do wonders for cancer patient access, cutting down on waiting times, making it unnecessary for the facility to send some patients to other institutions for radiation and quadrupling the number of stations at which it gives chemotherapy by infusion.
Smith said the clinic's cancer equipment will be the same as that used at Baylor College of Medicine, whose doctors impressed upon him the hospital district's needs. Smith has given $40 million to Baylor during the past decade, including $30 million for breast cancer research and $10 million to the urology department. Baylor doctors treated him for bladder and prostate cancer at Methodist Hospital.
Smith, who declined to say how much his company is worth, has also given to Texas Children's Hospital, the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston as well as the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
The hospital district's five-story, 167,807-square-foot building will house 17 exam rooms, 26 chemotherapy treatment stations, nine mammography units and numerous other pieces of state-of-the-art equipment.
The hospital district's former biggest donation was $10 million from lawyer Richard Mithoff and his wife, Ginni. In recognition of the gift to children's health care, the Trauma Center at Ben Taub was named for the couple.