By Larry Keller
The marathon campaign by the fundraising arm of Boca Raton Regional Hospital to raise $250 million for a massive expansion and renovation project is in the homestretch.
The hospital’s foundation raised $240 million as of late November, said its president, Mark Larkin. By the fourth anniversary in January of what is called the Keeping the Promise Campaign, he hopes to have reached the finish line.
The revamping of the hospital ultimately will cost about $1 billion. The most dramatic change will be construction of a nine-story patient tower — begun earlier this year — with entirely private patient rooms, surgical suites and retail and dining on the ground floor. The main entrance lobby will feature a two-story atrium and connect two tower concourses to elevators, reception and other areas.
The existing patient tower will be renovated “to the same standard as the new building,” Larkin says, and all of its rooms will become private. Combined with the new tower, the hospital will have 455 entirely private rooms.
Another addition will be a freestanding “medical arts pavilion” — an outpatient surgery center that will house orthopedic and other specialty clinics.
Plans also call for expanding the Marcus Neuroscience Institute to include additional examination rooms, intensive care units and minor procedure suites.
And there will be a new cardiovascular outpatient clinic along with intensive care and step-down units in the new patient tower that provide intermediate care between an ICU and a surgical ward.
All of this means more traffic, so a 972-car garage with direct access to the hospital has been built. The entire project is slated to be completed by 2027. “It will be transformative,” Larkin says.
“We’ve opened up new areas of medicine that we’ve never had in Boca before. It’s going to be extremely successful,” adds Stanley Barry, chairman of the Boca Raton Regional Hospital Foundation’s board of trustees, who contributed $10 million to the campaign.
It will look far different from the not-for-profit Boca Raton Community Hospital that opened in July 1967. It was a four-story facility with 394 beds. It later changed its name to Boca Raton Regional Hospital.
“The facility was getting tired,” says Barry, who formed a three-person committee with Christine Lynn and Dick Schmidt to explore a capital campaign for the hospital’s growth. “The community was growing by leaps and bounds. If we stayed in the position we were in, we really couldn’t take the next step forward.”
When the Keeping the Promise campaign was announced in January 2019, the goal was to raise $180 million. It was subsequently bumped to $250 million.
“I’m so pleased with the way the community responded,” Barry says.
Six months after the campaign began, the hospital merged with Baptist Health South Florida. Before the merger, the hospital didn’t have a large enough reserve or the ability to borrow the kind of money needed to undertake large-scale improvements and expansion, Larkin says. But Baptist Health invested about $660 million toward doing so.
“They ended up being great partners,” Barry says. “It’s a totally new operation from what it’s been in the past.”
With a new, more ambitious fundraising goal, the foundation held its annual ball — by far the largest generator of gross revenue among its three signature events — in February 2020 at the Boca Raton Resort & Club. Rod Stewart entertained.
Two-and-a-half weeks later, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a pandemic and the foundation’s face-to-face meetings with prospective donors abruptly ended.
“It wasn’t the same as being across the table from them or walking them around the site or any of those good things we normally do,” Larkin says. But foundation staff relied on phone calls and mastered Zoom technology. “People responded well,” he adds.
The annual ball was canceled in 2021 because of COVID, but convenience store magnate Bob Sheetz and his wife, Debbie Lindstrom, said they would match all donations up to $1 million in lieu of the ball.
“We far exceeded that and raised $4.1 million,” including the $1 million match, Larkin says.
The amount exceeded the $3.7 million in gross revenue the annual ball typically raises, Larkin says, while keeping ball expenses — which usually are around $1.9 million — to only about $65,000 for the direct mail campaign and follow-up. And while the pandemic presented the biggest difficulty to the capital campaign, it also spurred an appreciation for why it was important.
Donors “had a new appreciation for a really strong hospital when you’re dealing with something like COVID,” Larkin says.
The foundation also benefited from Boca Raton’s affluence. The city’s median household income in 2020 dollars was $84,445, according to U.S. Census Bureau data, compared to $67,521 nationwide, and 57% of residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher, versus 38% of the country as a whole.
With COVID restrictions easing, the foundation resumed its annual ball last January, with Sting as the featured performer. The next ball is on Jan. 21 at The Boca Raton, and Lionel Richie is the headliner. Larkin is hopeful he’ll be able to announce at that time that the $250 million target has been reached.
In all, there have been more than 1,100 donors to the campaign, Larkin says, and many more contributors to the foundation generally.
To date, 46 donors have contributed $1 million or more to the Keeping the Promise campaign, Larkin says. That includes eight donations of $10 million or more, with two gifts of $25 million. Those were from longtime hospital benefactor and Johnson & Johnson heir Elaine Wold, and billionaire investor and hedge fund manager Leon Cooperman and his wife, Toby.
The new hospital tower will be named for Wold’s friend Gloria Drummond. Two of Drummond’s children, ages 9 and 3, were fatally poisoned by an 11-year-old neighbor in 1962 when the nearest hospital was 15 miles away.
That spurred a campaign to build a hospital in Boca Raton. It came to fruition five years later, and Drummond was active with the hospital until her death in 2011.
Wold “wanted to recognize her good friend.” Larkin says. “Out of tragedy was born something that is really an incredible community asset now.”