Children's Hospitals come Together, Finally
By Beth Kassab | Local News Columnist
Posted May 8, 2013
Memo to the skeptics: Orlando appears to be supporting three children's hospitals just fine, thank you very much.
Ask Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas. Or Ashley Greene of "Twilight" fame. Jameer Nelson or Johnny Damon could tell you.
Shaq even made a video about it. Well, kind of.
Shaq made a video about Runway to Hope, a local charity that has pledged $1 million to each of the three local children's hospitals for cancer care and research.
The charity is harnessing the star power of the names I mentioned to pull it off. More on that in a minute.
First, though, it's worth noting that Nemours Children's Hospital opened its doors six months ago and the sky has yet to fall.
Florida Hospital and Orlando Health desperately wanted to stop a new competitor from entering the market.
Elected officials and even the suits at the Chamber - typically big cheerleaders of new jobs and anything that could bring more panache to Orlando - were awkwardly silent while Nemours fought for state approval.
It got very ugly. Orlando Health and Florida Hospital already were fierce competitors, more so than Disney and Universal. And they were about as welcoming to Nemours as the parks would be to a Six Flags setting up shop on International Drive.
Now, though, everybody is playing nice. At least, publicly.
The Runway to Hope event scheduled for Saturday is a perfect example.
Executives, doctors and patients from all three hospitals will come together at one event in the name of treating cancer.
It's not something you would have expected to see six or seven years ago.
"We went to each one of them and said: 'We're not going to let any politics or any business get in the way. Everybody has to get along,'" said Mark NeJame, who along with his wife, Josie, founded Runway to Hope. "And they all said, 'We're in.'"
The NeJames started the charity three years ago and pledged $1 million each to Florida Hospital and Orlando Health's Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.
This year, now that Nemours is open, the same pledge has been extended to them.
"We share Mark and Josie NeJame's passion to find a cure for pediatric cancer and admire their success at uniting three different Central Florida health systems around this one important goal," said Kim Strong, director of the Nemours Fund for Children's Health, in a statement.
These are the same folks who, while under attack from Orlando Health and Florida Hospital in 2005, questioned whether the other hospitals were putting financial interests ahead of kids.
"I find it unacceptable that the business needs of current hospitals outweigh needs of children in the region," Nemours CEO David Bailey said at the time.
NeJame, a local defense attorney and occasional talking head on CNN, says there are some signs that the new nice-guy attitudes are extending beyond the charity circuit.
He says he senses more collaboration among the hospitals, such as referring patients to one another rather than out of town, which adds the stress of travel on a family already taking care of a sick child.
"They're starting to," NeJame said. "I think they have a ways to go, but old habits are hard to break. But they are breaking them to their credit."
On Saturday, 93 children who are battling cancer will take a turn on the runway modeling Neiman Marcus or The Gap. They will be escorted by athletes like Damon or Nelson and a number of local "celebrities" (including, under the absolute loosest interpretation of the word "celebrity," me).
Fighting childhood cancer is a worthy cause. Far more worthy than hospitals fighting one another.