History of giving defines Nutter family

Over the weekend, there were a lot of headlines, Facebook posts and Twitter blurbs about the death of Kansas City business icon James B. Nutter. I read as much as I could because, even though I knew he was not in the best of health and was nearly 90 years old, it was a surprise, and a kick in the stomach, when I heard the news.

With a history as rich as his, it is hard to imagine that he is gone. But with compassion that never stopped, it’s comforting to know his legacy will never be lost.

The articles I read mentioned his work for many causes, including housing for the less fortunate when other lenders turned their backs; laws to forbid racial discrimination in places like hotels and restaurants; the creation of the Missouri conservation department; and, of course, Children’s Mercy (where his mother also contributed when she was just a child.)

My first meeting with Mr. Nutter, though I doubt he remembered it, was in the early 1990s when I was a brand-spanking-new public relations guy here at Children’s Mercy. He was the chair of the Marketing Committee of the Central Governing Board and my job was working with the local news media.

To say I was intimidated would be putting it mildly. The Nutter reputation as a bold mover and shaker preceded him, and his physical presence could not be ignored. His hands were huge, though soft when we shook. (I came to believe the same thing about his heart — big and tender — as I learned more about him.)

While Mr. Nutter was pleased with the work we were doing with the local news media, he wanted to know more about our efforts nationally. What about US News and World Report and that list it publishes that ranks children’s hospitals? How about being on that? Back then, it was purely reputation, we explained, and the voters were a small group of pediatricians with an East Coast bias. Not to be deterred, he came up with an idea and he even agreed to finance it out of his own pocket.

The project — a direct-mail piece that we sent to pediatricians all across the country — became known internally as The Nutter Postcard. It

1990s_Mid to late_Profile-raiser card paid by James B. Nutter_CMH 1
This postcard was mailed to pediatricians all across the country in the 1990s and helped increase the reputation of Children’s Mercy.

was striking. It impressively made the case for Children’s Mercy to take its place among the top-rated hospitals. And it began to push our reputation higher. Within a few years, we hit that list. And we’ve been on it ever since. Today it is much less about reputation and calculates rankings based on pages and pages of quantifiable data. Still reputation is important.

 

Of course, Mr. Nutter’s interests were not just making lists. He was interested in the children. And he knew that if Children’s Mercy was more highly thought of, it would be easier to recruit the best and brightest scientists for research and physicians for clinical care. Even though health care was not his first business, he took to it like he took to the mortgage business and helped grow Children’s Mercy into one of the finest.

As our reputation grew, Mr. Nutter continued to put, as the saying goes, his money where

Sybil Silkwood_As a girl
Sybil Silkwood Nutter

his mouth is. Two years after making its first “best children’s hospital list” (that one in Child magazine that included only 8 hospitals), Children’s Mercy opened the Sybil Silkwood Nutter Playground in 1999. It was named for James B. Nutter’s mother, who along with her friends were donors to the hospital when they themselves were children in the early 1900s. The story of their performances and the early donations is referenced in a previous blog post and is, of course, included in the book, “For All Children Everywhere.” The playground, pictured at the top of this post, includes a one-of-a-kind piano embedded in the sidewalk and a super-soft landing surface to prevent injuries after inevitable falls. Thanks to Mr. Nutter and his family, our children and their families (and hospital staff members) have been enjoying the park for nearly two decades.

 

Their generosity toward the children did not end there. In addition to James Sr.’s time and talent, his son, James B. Nutter Jr. also served on the Children’s Mercy Board, offering his expertise to guide this ship. And there is the family-supported Nancy Nutter Moore Garden, just outside our Lisa Barth Chapel, that serves as a serene haven for anyone needing a break. I’ve personally benefited from that special spot and know countless others have, too.

I also had the opportunity to sit down with Mr. Nutter more than a year ago while I was working on “For All Children Everywhere.” I was after photos of his mom. Her story was legendary, but pictures from those days are hard to come by. He provided the photo above, and so much more. Instead of just having someone send me an email with the photo, he invited me and our chief philanthropy officer down to his office for a visit. He wanted to make sure we got what we needed.

He greeted us like long, lost friends and offered us a seat in his understated office on Broadway near Westport Road. He was joined by a grandson who was learning the business, and undoubtedly so much more, from his grandpa. For about an hour, Mr. Nutter shared photographs with us, but he also shared stories. He talked about some family history, about some business history and about politics. He talked about helping spread the word about Children’s Mercy and he was delighted to know we’d kept copies of, and fondly remembered, “The Nutter Postcard.”

I left there feeling a bit overwhelmed. I had far more pictures than I could possibly use in the book. I had more stories than I could remember. But the real sense I came away with is that that I had just been in the presence of someone who’s kindness and generosity — let alone business acumen — I could only dream of matching with my own.

A statement from the Nutter family that was published in the Kansas City Star summed it up far better than I could:

“On Friday, we lost our patriarch – an extraordinary man whose big heart, wisdom and generosity touched us and so many others in profound and lasting ways. He taught us not only how to be honorable and fair in business, but how to listen to and learn from people from every country, culture and religion and to have compassion for every living thing, whether on two legs or four.”

I am reminded of the ripple effect and how our actions can affect many, many people, sometimes in ways we might not imagine. I think of the sisters who started Children’s Mercy. They began with one small little girl in need and the work has grown to help millions of other children. I think of so many other doctors and donors who committed to the cause over the past 120 years.

Children’s Mercy was lucky to count James B. Nutter among its friends. I am blessed to have made his acquaintance. In terms of ripples, Mr. Nutter made a big splash. And the world is a far better place because of it.

 

The book is out: the celebration is on!

One of the common complications of our modern, always-on, always-too-much-to-do (or too-much-to-prove) world is that we often don’t take time to savor our accomplishments. It pops up in employee satisfaction surveys all the time.

“What have you done for me lately?”

Maybe it’s not a modern problem at all, now that I think about it. I can remember in a previous life as a newspaper reporter and editor that we often whined that, because we were always careening from one edition to the next — “The news never stops!” we cried — we rarely had a chance to celebrate our good work. Oh, sure, we’d raise a glass some nights after the paper hit the presses, but it wasn’t long before we’d start thinking about expectations for tomorrow, have to find a new story, face a new deadline. Talk about  buzz kill.

I imagine it’s only gotten worse in the news biz. I got out before the 24-hour news cycle became a real thing; before the Internet and then social media obliterated old news consumption habits.

But the problem of not taking a breather is alive and well in many other industries as well. I have a friend who worked at a PR agency for years who told me he thought of himself as a plate-spinner like those we’d see on TV variety shows of old (back before we had “America’s Got Talent”or “The Gong Show.”) They just know one – or more – of those plates is going to fall and shatter.

And I know that my own little world of health care communications is, to use the technical term, “nutso” at times. Our team is a bunch of can-do, super-talented workaholics. We have our “Fun Squad” that plans events so we take a little bit of time to kick back and enjoy. It’s sad, in a way, that we need a special team and almost special permission, to have “fun.” Sadder yet is that many on the team are too busy to join in.

 

I can, of course, control only a very little bit in life. Someone once explained to me that I have no control over people, places, things and situations. Doesn’t leave much, besides my attitude.

So, that’s what I’m about to change. I’m shutting off my Twitter feed for a few days; turning off the TV news; and ignoring the drama of Facebook and everywhere else.

It’s time to celebrate!

Because, you see, the book, “For All Children Everywhere” officially goes on sale July 10 — almost exactly 120 years since the hospital was founded in 1897. (We couldn’t hit it exactly for a myriad of reasons, including the fact that we don’t actually know the exact date! You can read about that on Page 23.)

Right now, there are three ways to get the book: at the Children’s Mercy gift shops on the Adele Hall Campus or our Kansas hospital; online at the Children’s Mercy Website; and at the Kindle store through Amazon if you want an e-book. The print book will soon be available through Amazon (though more of the proceeds will go to Children’s Mercy if you buy it through our Web site and not a for-profit conglomerate like Amazon.) I’ll also try to get it in some local shops and the libraries around town. (Book distribution is all new to me, too. Like I’ve said before: Good thing I like to learn new stuff.)

I must admit: as good as it felt to hold the book in my hands the first time a few weeks ago, it feels even better now, knowing other people will be holding it, reading it. A few copies have leaked out and the reaction has been good. And satisfying. I’ve gotten better at saying “thank you” and even admitting, “Yes, it turned out pretty good.”

I’m not sure there’s anything I’ve ever done professionally that I felt this good about.

cake.jpg
This cake used to look like the cover page of “For All Children Everywhere”

(Maybe one investigative piece I did as a journalist …) Certainly there is no single project I have worked on this long and hard.

 

At our Communications and Marketing department staff meeting last week, I was surprised with a cake that had a copy of the book’s cover page in frosting. It was pretty neat, even if cake is not on my diet. And the blue icing on my suit coat and pants required a trip to the dry cleaner.

As I have written, I do not like to pat myself on the back and/or take too much credit. I have been blessed, with ability and opportunity and all kinds of great people in my midst. I know that. I do my part — suit up and show up as they say — and good things tend to happen.

Just as important, too, is the story that I had the honor to tell. My goodness were the founders of this hospital something? And the leaders who came after who transformed this place from a little charity hospital to a world-class, global-leading academic research center.

That’s something worth celebrating, too.

But the real lesson I hope to take from this is that it’s OK to stop and smell the roses from time to time. Or more often. Heck, even take a seat, have a cup of coffee and open a good book.

I have just the one in mind.

 

 

 

It pays to be an, er, open book

The other day in a meeting, the topic of our corporate values came up.

We have them printed on cards many of us carry around our necks with our ID badges so we had them readily at hand. It’s not that we don’t live these values, but we needed a little help to recite them.

I used to work at a place where the values were plastered on the wall above the doors as we walked from the reception area to the newsroom, lest we forget how to behave. We don’t do that here; instead what we have painted high above the main lobby of our Adele Hall Campus is a reminder that this is not our hospital, it belongs to the children’s.

But about those values.

At this meeting, we were discussing things like respect and teamwork and accountability. The one that I kept rolling around in my mind, though, even after the meeting, was the value of “transparency.”

Transparency is a word you hear a lot these days. Politicians use it, promising the taxpayers that they will know exactly how their money is being spent. No more “smoke-filled back rooms” like the days or yore. No more secrecy. That’s the promise. You be the judge how that’s working for us minions.

There’s a saying that “democracy dies in the darkness,” but in political circles today, we can’t even seem to agree what “darkness” means, so good luck trying to do something about it.

There’s a lot of talk about transparency in health care too. Some of that has to do with politics, and finance, to be honest. The IRS wants to know about costs and so do insurance companies. But transparency goes beyond that. Way beyond. Transparency is about quality and quality improvement, and research. If we’re open about what we’re doing, what we’re learning, how the kids are doing, then we can learn from it. If we share what we know, we can get better.

In our values statement, we talk about transparency this way: “We are open and honest about what we do, how we do it, what it cost and how it measures up against our goals and our peers. We openly and honestly share with one another information and insights about the results of our efforts so we can enhance what we do well and improve that which could be done better.”

This is a pretty bold statement. But, as I said, it makes sense. It’s about doing the right thing. And that is something we learned from our founders, Alice Berry Graham, DDS, and Katharine Berry Richardson, MD, way back when.

Katharine, in particular, was very bold in opening the books and the doors to Children’s Mercy for anyone who wanted to see. She freely talked about costs, about expenses, and even about patient conditions. (We have our hands tied a little bit with patient privacy laws, today … but we share what we can.)

When Katharine wrote about visiting hours, she wasn’t talking about when parents could come and visit their children. She was writing about when anyone could come to the hospital and walk through. She encouraged anyone and everyone to take a walk through the patient floors so they could see the good work that was being done and the needs that were being met, or unmet. We can’t do exactly that, these days, of course, because of what we’ve learned about infection control and evolving privacy and security measures.

So we look for other ways to be transparent. One is the Discover Children’s Mercy program that gives select individuals a look “behind the curtain” in what we call a mini-internship. We open the operating rooms, the neonatal intensive care unit, the lab and pharmacy. Even the helicopters. We do that three times a year.

To extend that peek to even greater numbers, we created Inside Pediatrics, a documentary series that shows on television. It’s widely viewed, has won two Emmys and has opened lots of hearts.

The new Children’s Mercy history book, “For All Children Everywhere” is another way we’re being transparent. Now granted, not every story from our 120 years is included in the 224 pages, but many of them are. And the ones that aren’t were not left out in an attempt to hide anything.

I was a bit concerned that some people might try to “censor” some of the more sensitive stories, those about conflicts or financial difficulties. But throughout the entire review process — and believe me, there were a LOT of reviewers — there were fewer than a handful of times when I’d written about something and it was suggested I think of a different approach. In none of those cases was it an attempt to hide; instead it was to find a different, perhaps gentler, way of explaining a situation in which some people disagreed. I emphasize “suggested,” too because the editing was never heavy-handed. That literary freedom speaks, as well, to the willingness to be transparent.

Does that mean every single story is in the book? Of course not. Is there some dirty laundry that was left out? None that I know of. Is the book “transparent” in its telling of the good times and not-so-good? I believe so. I hope so.

But you can be the judge. Beginning next week it officially goes on sale.

Let me know what you think. I’ll report that story, too. The good and the bad. This blog is dedicated to transparency, too.

 

 

 

What to leave behind for the children?

We sold my mom’s house last week. Just over three months after she died on St. Patrick’s Day, half a dozen people showed up on the front drive of the home where I grew up and participated in an auction. In less than 15 minutes, it was done. A property that had been in our family for 52 years was no longer ours.

It was a good thing, of course. It sold for a decent price, especially for a house that, as the real estate flyer kindly noted, “is ready to be updated.” It’s new owners are a young family with four small boys, who should delight in a home that’s right next door to a giant park and right atop the Mississippi River bluff of their Iowa hometown. And it means we’re one step closer to “closing the estate” and, I presume, a greater sense of closure on my mom’s death.

But there was — and is — a sense of sadness, too, on top of the good stuff. The house, heck, my home, is not longer a part of the family. “You can’t go home again,” they say. In this case, ain’t that the truth?

As I wallowed in some melancholy, I eventually came around the thinking about how everything in life is temporary. Life itself, of course. But if we’re lucky, like my mom was surely lucky, we manage to do something with our lives that not only make others lives a little better, but that also live on long after we are gone.

The house we sold is a great example. The structure we moved into in June 1965 had been built decades earlier and in one incarnation had served as a luncheonette for the city park. While we were living there, it burned on Christmas Eve 1976. That could have been the end of it. But we rebuilt, and dubbed it The Phoenix, like the mythical bird rising from the ashes. My dad hired a builder who was just starting out. Ours was his very first house and he used a very modern design: an open floor plan that is still very much in vogue. So the house lives on. And now a new generation of kids will grow up there, much like I did, not knowing until later how good they have it with a “backyard” of thousands of acres filled with fountains and a swimming pool and playgrounds and picnic shelters and band concerts and fireworks displays.

Beyond the house, though, I think about the sisters who founded Children’s Mercy 120 years ago. Alice Berry Graham and Katharine Berry Richardson were instilled with values by their parents that led them to think well beyond themselves.

As I wrote last time, I chose to begin the introduction to “For All Children Everywhere” with a quote from Katharine acknowledging her own temporary nature and a desire to be a force for good.

An extended version of that quote shows more of her guiding philosophy:

“What I leave behind me will be measured by the influence left on other minds. My

RICHARDSON3   4/20
Katharine Berry Richardson

passing will not for a moment stop the wheels. If, by my word, I could hold to my will those who come after me, I would not do it. There are only a few things that are fundamental and if I have not been a force for the perpetuation of these, then I have been a cipher. If I have been an influence for good will, and myself forgotten, (that) will be my monument. How foolish to think anyone indispensable …

“Our work, yours and mine, is to hold Mercy Hospital to its very best while we live, to keep fully up with all that’s decent – to somehow, some way, get a Research Laboratory for children’s diseases – to work as though we are going to stay forever and to realize that what is best will live on in the hearts of others.”

For her tombstone, she chose another quote, but with a similar message:

Others will sing the song. Others will write the right. Finish what I begin and all I fail to win.

In more than one interview for “For All Children Everywhere,” I heard from former or current employees about the mission of Children’s Mercy. There’s a legacy here. Many of us — and I don’t think it’s just the old timers like I have become — believe we are just caretakers some something much larger than ourselves. Our jobs, to put it bluntly, are to not screw it up before we pass it along to someone else.

There will always be someone else.

We’ve started a new internal campaign here to remind all employees of Children’s Mercy that their job is taking care of patients. They may fix the meals or paint the walls or review the policies, but it’s all about taking care of kids. Every. Single. One of us. We want to instill pride in the work that all us do to contribute to the ultimate goal.

When people ask me sometimes why I do what I do and how I’ve come to dive deeply into this Archives role after having lots of different PR jobs and newspaper jobs over the years, it’s really pretty simple: First, we have a great story to tell and I love to tell good stories. Second, and more important, we need to remember the past and learn from it. We may only be here for a short time, but time is a continuum … it began well before us and continues long after us. Our work and our lives may be temporary, but our impact can, and should, far outlast us. It’s important, I believe, that we recognize our role in the big picture.

And in doing so, it’s equally important that we act the right way, do the right thing.

The founders of Children’s Mercy didn’t know how to run a children’s hospital when they started out. But they did it because no one else was and children were counting on them. In chapter after chapter of “For All Children Everywhere,” you can find stories about hospital leaders, community philanthropists and even children who go above and beyond in the quest of fulfilling our mission.

There are children counting on us at Children’s Mercy. I take pride in that and don’t want to let down the little ones down. Most everyone else here feels the same way. We want to know that when we step aside, we will be leaving this place a little bit better than it was when we got here … no matter how long or how short the time was.

Ralph Waldo Emerson has this to say about success:

“To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived – that is to have succeeded”

The Kansas City Star, in declaring that Katharine Richardson was Kansas City’s “first civic asset” in a 1924 Sunday magazine piece, had a similar take:

“People have varying ideas of success, to be sure. But when a woman has devoted a quarter century to a work that belonged to the community, with the result now seen in the noble monument of Mercy; when she has been content to sacrifice the personal rewards her profession might have brought her in order that it might serve others; when she reserves for her own needs the smallest portion of her time, her skill and her energy; and yet in the fullness of her life can look upon the achievement scarcely to be match by those of great organizations of the highest ability and greatest wealth and know that achievement as her own, she surely is entitled to feel that its success can be measured in terms of service, it is hers …

“Then Katharine Richardson, still at work and calling her task unfinished, is the most successful woman in Kansas City.”

Now that’s something to try to live up to.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Will our legacy be one of love?

Over this past weekend, I attended a wedding. Not much news there, right? June. Weddings. Hand-in-hand. But wait. I have a point … as always.

As we mingled during the reception — talking politely about how beautiful the bride was, all the work the families put into this picture-perfect occasion and avoiding the topics that are supposed to avoided at time like this — the topic work and, of course, “For All Children Everywhere” came up.

“Oh, you’ve written a book. How exciting! What’s it about?”

We all know, in situations like these, it’s important to be succinct. The ol’ elevator speech, right? Do they really want to know? How much? I’ve had plenty of practice with this question lately.

“Well, it’s a history book,” I tell them. “But really, it’s a love story.”

Sometimes, the response is something like, “That’s nice. Did you see the Royals game last night?” My favorite, though, is when it goes something like this: “Like a historical romance novel?”

Well … except this is no novel. This is real life. And while there’s a little bit of romance, this is a different kind of love than we celebrate at weddings. Dare I say, a higher kind of love. The kind of love and commitment and dedication that we should all aspire to.

There are only a few things that are fundamental. If I have been an influence for good, that

RICHARDSON3   4/20
Dr. Richardson, circa 1925

good will live and … will be my monument.

Katharine Berry Richardson, MD

That is the beginning quote of the Introduction to “For All Children Everywhere.” The very first of tens of thousands of words (after the obligatory title page, table of contents, legalese …) I chose it, from the hundreds of quotes of our founders because it epitomizes the spirit that has guided Children’s Mercy for the past 120 years. It was somewhat amazing to me as I read historical documents and talked with people who have worked here over the past 50 or 60 years, how many talked about love. They may not have used that word, exactly. But when they said things like, “The only question we ask is, ‘What is best for the child?’ ” I knew what they meant.

Almost from the very beginning of the this book project I saw “the love angle.” At one point, I even tried to convince my committee of editors and advisors that we should call the book: Children’s Mercy: A love story. At first, they didn’t get it. But they did by the end, when I wrote the introduction. (Funny isn’t it, that the introduction — the beginning — comes at the end of the process. But it couldn’t be written without knowing the whole story.) Of course we didn’t go back and change the name and I believe we chose the right one. Still, what we have in these 224 pages that will soon be available, is a story that would make Eric Segal proud. (Look him up.)

Here’s a little of what I wrote …

This is a love story.

This is also a story about medical science. A story about a little hospital that grew, over a century, into a big complex academic medical center, but managed to keep its big heart. …

In these pages, you will find the love of a community, which despite changing times and hard times, a community that embraced this ideal and did not let this dream of the sisters die. …

Donors and volunteers speak of love as they give their time, talent and treasure to make lives of children and families better. They pass that love and dedication to their own children and grandchildren.

“The sources of Mercy Hospital power are great,” one of hospital’s most dedicated early physicians proclaimed on the hospital’s Golden Anniversary in 1947. “The first is the spirit of the Founders. How high their ideas, how great their love … Mercy hospital does things to people.”

I’m not sure if love stories make the best “beach reads” or not. But I do hope you’ll take some time this summer to look into this one. Or maybe wait until the fall, or the holidays. You may want to re-read parts of it around Valentine’s Day.

Love, after all, knows no season.

 

 

Well look here … it’s finally a book

I like to learn new things. Something I learned from my parents, I think. Or maybe my older brothers. They were always trying to teach me things, though not always the same things my parents wanted me to learn.

Don’t get me wrong, I can be as reluctant to change as the next guy. And I do like my routines. (It bugged me — at first — when Boulevardia decided to change locations of the festival this year, just as I was getting used to everything at the old location.) But, change is inevitable and routines are broken all the time. So, as another of my parents’ lessons went: Tough … get over it.

So I embrace learning new things. Seeing new places. Visiting with new folks. Hearing a new perspective.

Last week I was in for a real treat when the day had finally arrived to visit the printing plant at Marceline, Missouri, where “For All Children Everywhere” was really, truly coming to life. Marceline, the hometown of Walt Disney, is in north central Missouri, about a two-hour drive from Kansas City. It is home of Walsworth Publishing, the 27th largest printer in country.

The printing plant on the outskirts of town is a sprawling place. Our tour guide, Jacob Gordon, took us from one end of the plant to the other. I didn’t have my pedometer on, but I’d guess we walked a few thousand steps. We saw where they cut the paper, where the ink is dispensed (in magenta, yellow, cyan and black), where book pages dry and where the magic of folding and stitching takes place.

From giant rolls of blank white paper — much like the rolls I grew up around at my dad’s newspaper plants — to a finished, honest-to-goodness book, in just a matter of a few hundred yards. Amazing.

There were lots of steps, of course. Hundreds of people. Millions of dollars worth of machines, perfectly calibrated to fold and cut and glue just right. They have several measures they take for quality control.

For instance: the pages are printed in 16-page blocks on a single sheet of paper, front and

singer
In case the giant machines miss a stitch, they keep an old Singer sewing machine around  for touch ups.

back. After the pages dry, stacked high, one on top of the other, separated by an invisible film of power so they don’t stick together, they are folded this way and that to create the blocks. The blocks are then sewn together. Each block is carefully marked so that a quick glance down the fore-edge (opposite the spine) shows if the blocks have been placed in the proper order.

 

Having grown up around the printing process, I almost felt like I was back home again. The smell of ink hasn’t changed much. But the presses seem a lot quieter. There’s also a premium placed on recycling. Jacob explained it not only is good for the environment, but it’s also good for business.

After a couple of hours, we found our way to the place in the factory where “For All Children Everywhere” was ready to have the covers glued to the book blocks. There, in front of me, in real life, were stacks and stacks of The Book. To say it took my breath away would be overly dramatic. But it was a sight to behold. The Book … there’s no denying. It’s real. 224 pages folded and sewn together. The sisters story. My words. The designer’s art.

One of the technicians was working carefully with a machine to make sure its razor-sharp blades cut the covers exactly right. It would happen quickly, precision was paramount. A cut in the wrong place and the cover flaps would fall off; or the page numbers at the bottom could end up in the recycle bin. Neither would do.

And they were on deadline. This is a busy time of year for Walsworth. A a lot of their business is high school yearbooks. They have more than 1,000 employees and they work around the clock. “For All Children Everywhere” was just one tiny bit of their business.

But there’s something to be said about small-town hospitality. Jacob and Jessi Littleton, our account manager who accompanied the tour, made us feel like we were the most important people in Marceline that day.

Before I left, they presented me with almost a completed book. The pages were all printed and stitched together. The cover was printed beautifully on its soft-cover stock. They weren’t stuck together yet. That would happen later in the afternoon and we were welcome to stick around to watch.

But I didn’t need to see that. I took the two pieces, wrapped the book carefully in the cover and held it close. I took a deep breath. The beautiful aroma of fresh ink and new book filled my senses. Something else filled my heart. And I exhaled.

I learned a lot about the book printing process that day. But I learned something else too: the satisfaction and fulfillment of a project like The Book truly coming to fruition.

I’ve done it. I’ve really done it. And better yet, I get to soon share the fruits of this labor with you.

book and author
We’ve come a long way. The author and a book outside the printing plant in Marceline

 

 

OK, so yes, I admit it: the Wall is special

I am not one to pat myself on the back. And for that matter, I’m pretty shy about others doing it, too. It’s no false humility, either. It’s just that when I do something worthy of kudos, I know that deep down it’s not about me.

I’ll spare you my religious philosophy, though I am happy to discuss it sometime over a cup of coffee (this time of year, make it iced, please.) At my core, I know that I couldn’t accomplish the things I have without a lot of help.

Who among us could? I get really tired of the stories about the “self-made man,” or woman. Really? All by yourself? During a recent political campaign, there was all sorts of debate about how much help people need from the government. More than one person said he was tired of government handouts. After all, he made it without the government’s help, he cried. Well, except he needed the government’s streets and sewers and educational system and police and fire protection. But other than that …

I’ll spare you my political philosophy too.

This week, however, something pretty exciting happened around here: we unveiled a new historical display on the Adele Hall Campus of Children’s Mercy – Kansas City. It’s a project I’ve been managing for a bit more than two years.

As I wrote last time, when it was being installed, it was more than a little nerve-wracking. The days leading up to its “unveiling” were filled with angst as the last fine details were attended to. (Full disclosure: it’s not exactly perfect at this writing, but we’re working on it.)

But I must say, this week, when the curtain went up, or came down more accurately, I was thrilled with the reaction. Even before we invited our administrators and a select group of employees to be “the first” to see and touch and experience The Children’s Mercy Story, there were families who stopped by the colorful display. Children flipped through the storybook. Moms opened the tiny doors to learn more about what Children’s Mercy is all about.

It reminded me of the time when we opened the Sybil Silkwood Nutter Playground in front of the hospital a decade or two ago. The artist who designed the giant piano sat for days and just watched people interact with his creation. I didn’t stand by for days, but I admit I made more than a couple special trips down the hallway off the rotunda to see the display in all its glory and watch people and their reactions.

So, while I tell myself I’m not patting myself on the back — it truly is the work of a big, big team of colleagues — I am trying to enjoy this moment. We’ve done something pretty  special here.

But don’t just take it from me, watch this video, or read the story below we posted on our intranet, The Scope.

And next time you find yourself at Children’s Mercy – Adele Hall Campus, stop by.

 

New historical display unveiled

“The Children’s Mercy Story,” a new historical display representing the 120-year legacy of the hospital, was unveiled Wednesday (June 14) and immediately drew high praise from invited staff members witnessing the special event.

“One of the things I love about Children’s Mercy is that dreams come true here. The completion of this new historical display is exactly that … a dream come true,” said Tom McCormally, Director of Archives, who welcomed attendees to the unveiling ceremony, which included 16 CM employees who won special invitations to attend with Randall L. O’Donnell, PhD, President and CEO.

“I get emotional thinking of the history of Children’s Mercy,” said Dr. O’Donnell. “120 years, all starting out with a little girl abandoned in the West Bottoms who Alice Berry Graham and Katharine Berry Richardson were called upon to see if they would help … and they did. That was our first patient. This special display that Tom and the Archives Committee have done such a magnificent job on reflects everything from that history, right up through what I call 120 years of empathy and support for Children’s Mercy from our community, because we wouldn’t exist without that. As I told someone the other day, at 120 years, we’re just getting started.”

 

Dr. Rand O’Donnell, President and CEO (at podium), and Tom McCormally, Director of Archives, welcome guests to the official opening of the new Children’s Mercy historical display.Enter a caption

The 30-feet long, 8-feet tall display, located on the ground floor of the Adele Hall Campus next to the lobby and rotunda, is a three-dimensional, museum-quality display designed to take visitors on a journey through the 120-year odyssey of one of the top pediatric medical centers in the United States. Through pictures, words and a small sampling of historically significant artifacts, the wall describes the story, from humble beginnings of the hospital by two sisters caring for a single little girl in a rented bed, to a fully integrated clinical referral center, academic medical center and research hub. Underpinning the entire story, and the display itself, is a foundation of philanthropic support and a devotion to the mission of being for all children everywhere.

“I think it’s beautiful,” Dr. O’Donnell added after the curtain came down and all could see. “I love the three-dimensional aspect of it, the openness of it that you can literally reach in and touch.”

Staff impressions
Staff members who won invitations to the opening by submitting answers to the question, “Why I’m proud of CM’s 120-year legacy in our community,” were equally impressed. 

Sixteen CM staff members won invitations to the unveiling of the new historical display by submitting responses to the question, “Why I’m proud of CM’s 120-year legacy in our community.”

“I love the new exhibit. I think it is an inspiration and really encompasses what Children’s Mercy stands for and everything we do for the public,” said Demetria Clay, Administrative Assistant-Ear, Nose and Throat. “I love the interaction, that you actually touch it and feel it. I think that will be good for patients to really dig in deep and see what we represent.”

Mary Van Duzer, Human Resources Specialist, said, “I think a lot of people come here not realizing our history, so I think it’s nice that we have this.”

Kevin Briggs, Program Manager, Accreditation & Regulatory Readiness, said, “It’s pretty amazing and it’s a little overwhelming as you start to take a look at everything that’s here. I think probably my favorite part is the initial story about the sisters, how there was a child who needed care, and how they started caring for her. That’s why we’re here and that’s part of our mission, to take care of all the kids of Kansas City.”

“The Children’s Mercy Story” is a three-dimensional, museum-quality display that depicts the proud, 120-year history of CM through pictures, words and a small sampling of historically significant artifacts.

Sheila Montgomery Park, Director of Philanthropic Corporate and Foundation Giving, said, “It’s fabulous. I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Being in Philanthropy, I like all the references to early fundraising…it’s a really broad, lovely exhibit. I didn’t know nurses had to sew their own uniforms and live here while they went to nursing school. I learned quite a few things, just glancing at it for about seven minutes.”

Leslie Cromwell, Office Manager, Strategic Planning, said, “It’s lovely to watch where we’ve come from. It shows where we started, where we’ve been, and also where we’re going.”

Leslie’s son, Jax, 10, is part of the exhibit. He is pictured with Dr. Mary Anne Jackson, Division Director, Infectious Diseases.

“I’m very pleased that my son was able to be a part of this display,” Leslie said. “He was an inpatient here for eight days at two weeks of age. They saved my son’s life; I will never be able to thank our staff enough.”

What’s in? What’s out?
As the Director of Archives, Tom led the effort that resulted in the new display. One of the toughest parts of the job was deciding what material to include.

“The biggest challenge we had was we had too many good stories,” Tom said. “Too many good photographs. It’s a nice problem to have – far better than not having the stories or the pictures or the artifacts – but it meant we had to make some really tough choices about what goes in, and what is out. We only had limited space and yet, as you see, there is a lot, lot of information here. It can become almost overwhelming. Believe me, I know. And this is after we whittled it down a lot. There are some familiar photos and some we’re seeing for the very first time.”

The display is the result of a team effort.

“When we started this project more than two years ago, all we wanted to do was update and upgrade the existing display case that was a somewhat dusty hodgepodge of artifacts, news clippings and photographs,” Tom said. “We began to dream. And when I say ‘we,’ I mean there were a lot of people involved: the Archives Committee, Dr. O’Donnell, many people in Marketing and Communications and Philanthropy, the folks at UMKC that hold our archival collection, and our museum consultant, Jean Svadlenak. I’m sure I’m forgetting someone. It was a team effort.”

Tom said the display is designed not only to take pride in our past, but to convey a bright future.

“In the end, our dream was to create a place where visitors could see not only our history, but also our promise for the future. A place where they can take in a little bit of information each time they walk by and get the sense that ‘Wow, this is some special place.’ For employees especially, we hope it helps fuel that sense of pride in the work, in the legacy, in the dream of Children’s Mercy.”

Time is near: Be careful what you ask for

There was a time when I was growing up, I think I was in the late single-digits, when I just couldn’t wait for the next special occasion: birthday, Christmas, Easter. It was for pretty selfish reasons, I admit. But in my innocence, I didn’t really see it that way.

I counted down the months, then the weeks, the days. My anticipation was overwhelming at times. And yes, it’s true, almost without fail, the big day would arrive and my overblown expectations would lead to disappointment. (There was the year of the drum set for Christmas, though, that far exceeded anything I could have dreamed!)

I remember my mother one time, noticing me looking wistfully out the picture window at the city arboretum that served as my childhood home’s backyard. “What’s on your mind,” she asked. When I told her I was thinking about what I wanted for my birthday — six months from that time — she took a break from her ironing and soap operas to join me on the sofa.

“That’s a long time, darling,” she said. “Why don’t you go out and enjoy today. It’s a present, too.” She kissed me on the top of my head and I went to get lost in an imaginary world of superheroes and villains others in town knew as Crapo Park.

I won’t say it was at that instant, but that brief moment with my best teacher pushed me toward a life of trying “to live in the moment.” All these years later, I try to remember to embrace life “one day at a time.” It’s important to make plans for the future, of course, but you shouldn’t lose site of the present.

It’s those lessons that have kept me from thinking too much about two big events finally happening this week and next around the world headquarters of “For All Children Everywhere.” Two major projects that have been giant parts of my life the past couple years are coming to a head. I tried real hard not to think too much about these projects coming to fruition and how spectacular it would be. I didn’t want to get lost in expectations … and I sure as heck wanted to avoid disappointment.

I also didn’t want to lose track of “today” while yearning for “tomorrow.” But now, “tomorrow” is here. No more dreaming. No more anticipation.

It’s exciting. And it’s scary.

The first big deal I’m talking about is the new historical display that’s going up inside Children’s Mercy Hospital on the Adele Hall Campus. I’ve been the point person on this project for more than two years. It began as an idea to replace a small, dusty display case that had a few artifacts, photos and faded newspaper clippings. At the time, I had no idea where it would lead.

It’s a long story — Children’s Mercy has been around 120 years after all — but the big day is almost here. Installers

wall install
It doesn’t look like much now, but when “the wall” is finished it’ll really be something.

from a local company, Dimensional Innovations, have been at the hospital this week putting the puzzle pieces together. When they’re finished (oh please, oh please, no more delays!), the 30-foot long display will brighten up a hallway just off the main lobby and Rotunda. Dozens of photos, some never before seen by the general public. A handful of historically significant artifacts. Interactive elements. Facts and details and remarkable stories.

 

We call it: The Children’s Mercy Story. Some of the script reads like this:

The history of Children’s Mercy – like all the best children’s stories – is the answer to a simple question: What can one do to turn trouble into triumph?

In 1897, two sisters answered that question when they took in one abandoned child and established the “Free Bed Fund Association for Crippled, Deformed and Ruptured Children.” Every day since, professionals and volunteers have carried forward that act of hope and healing with compassion and an unshakable belief in each patient’s possibilities. Today, the reach of Children’s Mercy in clinical care, education and research extends around the globe.

A brochure about the display explains it this way:

The Children’s Mercy Story is a three-dimensional museum-quality display designed to take visitors on a journey through the 120-year odyssey of one of the top pediatric medical centers in the United States. It is located on the ground floor of Children’s Mercy Hospital on the Adele Hall Campus, Kansas City, Mo. Through pictures, words and a small sampling of historically significant artifacts, the wall display describes the humble beginning of the hospital by two sisters caring for a single little girl in a rented bed, to the fully integrated regional clinical referral center, academic medical center and medical research hub that stands today. Underpinning the entire story, and the display itself, is a foundation of philanthropic support and a devotion to the mission of never turning a child away.

This brochure is a sampling of that journey and the promise it portends for the future.

Welcome to The Children’s Mercy Story.

The exciting part for me is that this project I’ve been sweating (and yes, sometimes swearing) over the past couple years is coming to fruition. It is real, after years of being just something on paper in word documents or graphic design. I can show people what I am talking about. I get to see their reaction. Heck, I get to see MY reaction. When I saw bits of the display in the warehouse a few weeks ago, they looked huge! How will they possibly fit, I wondered. But that’s just what is happening this week — despite challenges of less-than-square corners and walls that have shifted a bit with age.

The scary part is … this is it. No more research. No more changes. No little tweaks.

Over and out. Done. No looking back.

That’s one other lesson I remember from my early days: what’s done is done; when it’s time to move on, move on. When people ask me, “What’s next?” I have a stock answer:

“It’s always something,” I say with a smile.

After The Wall, The Book comes next. And I may actually get to hold one in my hand next week at the printer. I can hardly wait! But I’m trying really hard not to think too much about it. That’s not “today” yet.

Stick with me, there are more good stories ahead.

 

CM HistoricalDisplayBrochureSisters-TH-1
A brochure for the new historical display at Children’s Mercy includes many old photos and quotes from our founders, Alice Berry Graham, DDS, left, and Katharine Berry Richardson, MD.

 

 

 

 

 

Doing our best … trying our hardest

I must say, I was a teeny bit surprised at some of the reaction when I wrote last time that I was not a perfectionist. I may have even said that’s a good thing. I know mistakes will be made. We’re human after all.

Surprised, I say, because I heard from two people who thought parents might think twice about seeking care for their kids here at Children’s Mercy if they thought we were only interested in “good enough.” And that, well, “mistakes happen.”

But wait, I began to counter, I’m not talking about brain surgery! I’m talking about the history book. Of course, children deserve nothing but the very best. “Good enough” is only if it’s a close to perfect as we can make it.

I have said many times over the years that I am glad I do what I do and not what others around here do. When I make a mistake, someone’s name is misspelled. That’s a big deal. But it’s not the same as giving someone the wrong dose of medication (something that happens as often as 10 percent of the time in England, according to a study there from 2010.)

We know mistakes are a part of life. And I don’t know anyone — including me — who likes to make them. So I try my best. Have check and balances. Cross my fingers. Follow a checklist. Call the editor. Push the “publish” button. Say a prayer.

Of course, it’s serious business in a hospital where children and their parents are counting on you. We strive to be what’s known in the trade as a “high reliability organization.” Airlines are HROs (except when it comes to customer service these days … but that’s another story.)

When I was at Cincinnati Children’s between 2008 and 2011, we had a very intense, very public quality program. It’s one of the things that attracted me there.  Dr. Uma Kotagal,  was the leader of those efforts and she set a goal of “zero” errors. No mistakes at all. This, to the public relations guy (me), seemed a bit optimistic. I asked her one day when it was just the two of us in her office if she thought she was being a bit unrealistic.

“What is unrealistic? The children are counting on us,” she boomed at me. “Zero it is.”

“So do you think we’ll ever get there?” I followed up.

“That is not the right question. We will never stop trying until we do. And then we’ll keep trying some more.”

As I wandered down Burnet Avenue back toward my office, I thought to myself: I’ve met somebody who will never be satisfied, who will never give up. This is setting the bar high.

When I was helping craft a story about how drastic changes were taking place at Children’s Mercy in the early 2000s, I referred to our CEO’s stated goal of being “the best children’s hospital in the world.” He had a vision. And he pushed us toward it. The business guru Stephen Covey would have called this a “big hairy audacious goal.”

So trying our best and striving for excellence is not exactly new in medicine, or Children’s Mercy.

In the late 1990s, the Institute of Medicine, an arm of the National Academy of Science, released a report called “To Err is Human.” It estimated that as many as 98,000 people a year in the United States die as a result of “preventable medical errors.”

Here is some of what I wrote about that time in “For All Children Everywhere,” which will be available for purchase to the general public in about a month:

“The IOM report woke everybody up,” said Dr. Karen Cox, a Chief Operating Officer.

She recalled that the reaction from the health care industry was one of disbelief, not that errors happened, but that there were so many that resulted in death.

“There were a lot of things, frankly, in health care that we thought was the price of being sick. You were at risk for infections, yes, that’s true. And yes, there are some things that happen. But, they just happen. That was the attitude.

“One thing a lot of people said was that it really can’t be that bad, that there can’t possibly be that many deaths. But my comment back to them was, what if it were only 10 percent of that? Would we be OK then, if errors only killed 9,000 people a year?

“We needed a different approach. …”

 

A follow-up to “To Err is Human,” was the 2001 IOM report, “Crossing the Quality Chasm,” which outlined ways to enhance health care through six “aims for improvement.”  The aim is healthcare that is STEEEP: Safe, Timely, Effective, Efficient, Equitable and Patient centered.

Children’s Mercy embraced the goals and formed a new department, Quality and Clinical Safety to integrate those principles across the medical center. … Patient safety was redefined as everyone’s responsibility. … 

 

During its 2005 visit to Children’s Mercy, the major hospital accrediting body, the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations (now simply The Joint Commission) delivered stellar marks to the hospital for meeting all of the National Patient Safety Goals: improving effective communication, reducing infections, and others. At the time, Children’s Mercy received full accreditation with no recommendations for improvements, its highest ranking ever.

Since then, Children’s Mercy has continued its efforts. Employees are regularly encouraged to look for new ways to improve care. The journey never ends. As part of the “Listening, Leading, Learning” evolution project (2006), hospital leaders acknowledged the system was not perfect.

“Steps are taken. Mistakes are made. Learning happens,” the report says. “When you champion the value of individual leadership, you have to accept the risks along with the rewards … Children’s Mercy must remain adaptable.”

I especially like the line: Patient safety was redefined as everyone’s responsibility.

Even people who write books are dedicated to safety and quality. We are all doing our best. Trying our hardest. Reaching for the stars.

 

Nobody’s perfect … no book, either

Confession time (again): I am not a perfectionist.

You might think that’s a dangerous thing to admit — doesn’t everybody want “perfect?” — but it’s really not that much of a secret once you get to know me. I am a firm believer in “good enough,” especially when deadlines loom and it’s not a matter of life and death.

Oh sure, I like to get things right. Who doesn’t? But it’s just that I’ve never been one to sweat over all the details until I make something “just exactly perfect,” as one of the Grateful Dead guitarists used to say when the band spent too much time getting ready to perform. (Perfectionists also have trouble finishing anything — since they are striving for elusive perfection — and I like to get things done.)

It was no great shock to me when the editor of “For All Children Everywhere” admonished me a few weeks back, as we were rolling down the runway on the way to the printing plant. I asked for just a little bit more time to check something out.

“Tom,” editor Monroe Dodd said as gently, yet firmly, as possible. “There will be mistakes. Try as hard as we can. Show it to as many proofreaders as you want. There will be at least one mistake. There just will be.”

Too many opportunities for error. Every single word. All 80,000 of them. Every letter, photo, page number and, lest we forget, every reference in the index or appendix.

“I know,” I told him, and myself. “I know it won’t be perfect. Can’t be.”

I thought I had resigned myself until …

One of the exciting things that is beginning to happen here at For All Children Everywhere World Headquarters on the Garden Level of 2400 McGee at Crown Center, Kansas City, is that packages of historical materials are showing up on my proverbial doorstep. Unannounced. Unexpected. Like from Santa Claus but in the springtime, the envelopes and boxes appear with wonderful surprises. Including a surprise that included vials of hazardous materials … I’m just thankful I knew who to call to get it disposed of properly.

The other day, such a package included a copy of the 1962 hospital annual report. It’s one1962 report front I had not seen in our Archive collection before so it’s a welcome addition. I started to look through it and stopped to read the letter from the president of the Central Governing Board, Mrs. C.E. Weaver. (I was looking particularly for any mentions of either our collapsing affiliation with the University of Kansas or the emerging plans to build on Hospital Hill.)

Instead, there was a blurb about the first, and (until this year) last official history of Children’s Mercy by Roger Swanson. And it was there my heart sank.

“The first book on Mercy’s founding and development was published in 1962,” Mrs. Weaver wrote.

1962 report letter
The letter “From the President …” caused my heart to cry

“No,” my heart cried. Not 1962. It can’t be 1962. I am sure I wrote that it was 1961. There are all sorts of numbers in the book. All kinds of facts and figures. But I am sure of this one: I have told countless people over the past couple years that one of the reasons we were doing a new book is because the last time a history was published was in 1961. One. Not two.

For a second, I sat there, stunned. I fretted. Well, that didn’t take long. The book’s not even on the press yet and already I’ve found a mistake. “What else could go wrong?” I cried to no one but myself?

I picked up one of the copies of Swanson’s book. I guess I just wanted to make myself feel even worse. Stare at the publication date to just reiterate in my mind what a fool I had become. Sure, I’m no perfectionist … but I do think I’m a pretty good reporter, an OK editor and I’ve been pretty careful.

And there, clear as day inside the front cover: “64 years: This history tells the story of The Children’s Mercy Hospital from its founding in the summer of 1897 until 1961.”

Maybe that’s where I got confused. The book covered the time until 1961. Maybe it wasn’t published until the following year. Dang!

I turned the page, though, and I found something unexpected:

Printed in the United States of America. The Lowell Press, Kansas City, Missouri. 1961. (Emphasis, mine!)

Vindication!

I was right. It is ’61. It’s not a mistake, at least this time it’s not my mistake. Whew.

I admit, it is somewhat comforting that even Mrs. Weaver (and more likely her ghost writers and the PR staff of the hospital) got the dates mixed up and she was living through the times. It may make it easier to swallow when I find a mistake we’ve made about some time far, far away.

There’s bound to be one. I know it. I may not be a perfectionist, but I sure don’t like to make mistakes.

Is it too late to stop the presses?