Seattle Children’s, and the community it serves, has a reason to celebrate. The “Starts with Yes” campaign not only met its ambitious target of raising $1 billion for the region’s premiere children’s hospital, but it also surpassed that goal by $400 million.
The meaning of the record-breaking achievement, spearheaded by Seattle Children’s Foundation President Doug Picha, goes beyond bragging rights. It is about making critical care available to more kids throughout the hospital’s network of clinics and providers, across four states.
When 2-year-old Tiago was diagnosed with stage 4 high-risk neuroblastoma, his father, Conan Viernes, had two questions: Could his son get the best medical care in the world and would that care bankrupt him?
“It was because of the Yes campaign, it was because of the mission of Seattle Children’s to serve every child, regardless of their ability to pay, that my son is alive today,” Viernes told the editorial board.
Tiago benefitted from Children’s cancer program and its cutting-edge immunotherapy research, one of the “four pillars” of the Yes campaign’s fundraising goals. Over its 11-year span, the campaign raised $215 million for pediatric cancer, $125 million for the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic, $147 million for neurosciences and $450 million in endowment funds.
The more than 180,000 donors who contributed also gave $255 million for uncompensated care to help fulfill Children’s promise of serving every child in the region, no matter their financial circumstances. A critical component of providing that care is the Odessa Brown Children’s Clinic.
Another reason to celebrate the Yes campaign’s success is the upcoming opening of a second clinic location in the Othello neighborhood to better focus on underserved communities. However, Odessa Brown is also at the heart of Children’s biggest challenge.
The hospital has stumbled in its response to charges of institutional racism raised in 2020 by the clinic’s former medical director, Dr. Ben Danielson. Children’s commissioned an investigation led by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and at first refused to publish the results.
After public outcry, it released a list of findings and recommendations, but the full report — and a clearer picture of the “racial disparities” the investigation found — remains under wraps. Officials said that participants were assured confidentiality, but privacy and transparency need not be mutually exclusive.
Concerns remain the hospital is more worried about public relations and protecting its reputation than taking any real action. To its credit, Children’s has committed to provide regular updates on its anti-racism and equity efforts. The first report was published in December.
It is worth withholding judgment, but meaningful progress must be evident soon.
Children’s phenomenal fundraising “Starts with Yes” campaign is a testament to the trust the hospital has built over more than 100 years of service to the community. If that trust is to continue, hospital leadership must effectively respond to problems with racial equity or else donors may think twice about saying “yes” next time.