"All of Us Can Do Something to Help."
With less than one week until the Thanksgiving holiday, today marks the official launch of The Gift of Hope Happens Here. This annual holiday season giving campaign encourages caring friends in the community to make charitable gifts to Riley Children’s Foundation.
It’s our pleasure to introduce you to Riley Hospital’s President Matt Cook, who shares what drives his passion for Riley Hospital and for helping others through health care.
Q: It’s been about eight months since you left the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) to join Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health. Based on what you’ve seen in your time here, what sets Riley apart from other children’s hospitals?
A: I think it’s the level of passion. Riley Hospital is uniquely positioned in that it serves the whole state of Indiana. When I was looking at the position here, it was very clear that the level of passion that exists for Riley was something special, both within the community and the staff. That’s not uncommon at children’s hospitals, but here, the passion was a level above what I was expecting.
Given that Riley’s mission is the entire state, it has a different set of challenges and that’s something I was interested in. I felt Riley was uniquely positioned to not only treat the children with complex medical needs that we typically associate with Riley, but also to promote health and wellness for all children across the state.
Q: How has your personal background influenced your career in health care?
A: When I was a kid, I didn’t think I would grow up to become a hospital administrator. But when I was in fifth through seventh grade, my mother was fighting very aggressive breast cancer. She had a radical mastectomy and went through intense chemotherapy. She would receive a treatment and then she’d be nauseous and sick for several days. It was so hard for my sisters, father and me to watch.
I remember coming home from school one day and crawling into bed with my mother. She was not feeling well at all and had been vomiting, and she told me, “I don’t want you to be here, I’m really sick.” And I told her, “It’s the only thing I can do to help you.” That’s what inspired me to get into health care.
Although there are many things I can’t do for those who are sick, in pain or facing frightening medical challenges, I want to do what I can to help them. All of us can do something to help, whether it’s through our daily work or by making a financial gift. Helping lead Riley Hospital through a new period of growth and improvement for children’s health care is a privilege for which I am grateful.
Q: The Gift of Hope Happens Here campaign is an opportunity for the entire community, from individuals to Riley team members to corporations, to give back to Riley during the holiday season. Why does Riley Hospital need philanthropic support?
A: There are so many things we do that we take for granted but that would not be in place without philanthropic support. All of our Family Support Programs such as Child Life, Social Work, Music and Art Therapy and the Riley School Program are heavily supported by philanthropy. Those programs are not reimbursed by insurance. We provide those because they are part of our mission, and we need help maintaining them and keeping them in place.
But donations are not only important for those programs that benefit the patients directly—they are also important for programs that help translate pediatric research breakthroughs into advances in patient care. Federal funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is declining nationwide, but it’s growing for Riley, and that is mainly because Riley donors are helping our researchers jump start their initiatives so that they can acquire federal funding. We’re now eleventh in the nation in terms of federal research funding for pediatrics programs. The competition for federal funds keeps getting tougher and tougher. A little seed money from a donor can really go a long way in helping innovations get off the ground.
Q: What message would you like to share with people in the community who donate to Riley?
A: Every dollar helps. Every gift brings something to Riley, whether it’s in our infant mortality initiative (the new Riley Maternity and Newborn Health program), our Family Support Programs, our world-class patient care or our growing pediatric research team. You can’t underestimate the power of those dollars. Even as big as Riley is, our mission is more complicated and far-reaching than it’s ever been. We need resources to pursue that mission, so it’s critically important to have this philanthropic support. We wouldn’t be where we are without it.
Q: Do you think the people of Indiana fully understand Riley’s stature as one of the nation’s top pediatric research hospitals?
A: I think it is easy to underestimate the power of the organization, especially since we’re one of the largest children’s hospitals in the nation that’s within an adult health network. But all you have to do is walk the floors and see the care we provide and how complex it is, and you know that we’re a national asset. We have nationally-ranked programs here and they allow us to provide care so children don’t have to leave the state of Indiana. Riley has developed very sophisticated care models and we can do things that couldn’t be done 10-15 years ago.
There’s a critical mass we’ve now hit in terms of size. All of our different missions—pediatric research, training health care professionals of the future, the patient care we provide—they’re all reinforcing each other. We’re at a size now where all of these missions interact with each other on a daily basis and raise the bar for the organization. When you compare Riley with other children’s hospitals across the country, we clearly have something special here.
Q: We’ve seen big growth in the Employee Giving portion of The Gift of Hope Happens Here campaign. What are your thoughts about team members Riley who choose to give back in this way?
A: I think it sends an important message to the community that our employees feel as passionately about philanthropy as the rest of the community does. It means they’re invested in the organization, and want to support families as we all do. When an employee participates it’s even more meaningful because it means they’re deeply buying into the organization where they work.
Q: What excites you most when envisioning the next five years at Riley Hospital?
A: We’ve had some very significant recruits come in to our faculty, and that is also adding to our reputation. I think we’re right on the cusp of exploding in a positive way. It’s a critical time. You don’t want to lose the momentum you’re creating. We need to keep fostering this passionate commitment to patient care and innovation and serving the community. If we keep doing that we’ll continue to surprise ourselves.
The opportunity for Riley is really in growing our statewide network. We have a lot of programs spread throughout the state. We need to make sure we can care for patients appropriately in the communities where they live. Our opportunity is to make a mark in the state of Indiana by reducing infant mortality and improving access to pediatric care. The changes we make will help families here in Indiana, and further enhance our reputation outside of the state.
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