By Maria Saporta and Urvaksh Karkira
Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta has received its largest individual gift, to bolster its efforts to become a national leader in pediatric research.
The Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation is making a $30 million gift to Children’s Healthcare, including $25 million toward a pediatric research building and $5 million toward the Marcus Autism Center.
The grant will help bring to reality a multimillion-dollar pediatric research partnership between Children’s, Emory University, Georgia Tech and others, targeted at cardiovascular disease, oncology, neuroscience and other conditions.
The research partnership, reported first by Atlanta Business Chronicle in February 2008, also aims to develop new medical technologies, medications and therapies; create targeted treatments based on the patient’s genetic makeup; and develop custom-designed vaccines.
Up until now, Children’s largest individual gift was $25 million. It received a $25 million gift from Joseph Moss, a retired Detla Air Lines Inc. pilot in 2008, and another $25 million from the Robert W. Woodruff Foundation Inc.
The Whitehead Foundation is one of several that’s part of the Woodruff family of foundations. It was created in 1937 by the son of Joseph B. Whitehead, one of the original Coca-Cola bottlers, as a legacy to his father. The foundation focuses its giving in the Atlanta community with a special emphasis on children.
“The partnership between Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and the Woodruff Health Sciences Center of Emory University promised enormous benefits for Georgia’s children,” said Russ Hardin, president of the Whitehead and Woodruff foundations. “The building made possible in part by the Whitehead Foundation grant will provide lab space for scientists who will develop new therapies and save lives. We hope those scientists may even reveal the genetic or environmental causes of mysterious childhood diseases or conditions like autism.”
Most of the Whitehead gift will go toward developing a new $90 million pediatric research building on the Emory University campus adjacent to the Children’s Healthcare facility.
“We are very excited about moving forward,” said Donna Hyland, president and CEO of Children’s Healthcare. “As the largest pediatric health-care system in the country, we have a unique opportunity to partner with our medical university — Emory — to conduct research.”
Children’s serves about 265,000 unique patients each year. The health system celebrated its 1,000th solid organ transplant last month, Hyland said.
The $5 million gift to the Marcus Autism Center, now part of the Children’s Healthcare system, will expand research efforts in neuroscience, autism and related disorders.
The Whitehead gift will help Children’s recruit health and research professionals, Hyland said.
“We have a lot of work to do now that we have this wonderful gift,” she said. “We may have this wonderful collection of resources, but this is enabling us to be able to best use those resources.”
The Whitehead gift will permit Children’s and Emory to move forward in selecting an architect and prepare for the development of the $90 million building, said Fred Sanfilippo, executive vice president for health affairs at Emory University.
“We are hopeful to be able to open it in a three-year time frame,” Sanfilippo said, adding that about another $50 million still needs to be raised for the project.
More significantly, Sanfilippo said the gift will help Emory and Children’s fulfill its “quest to be a 21st-century model for an academic health sciences and service center.”
Since Children’s acquired the Marcus Autism Center a year ago, Hyland said it has been working with about 50 researchers and other institutional partners to work on research and treatment for autism through the Atlanta Autism Consortium.
“We are working together on developing the assets in Atlanta for the treatment of children with autism,” Hyland said, adding that the various participants are trying to align their work toward that goal.
Children’s Healthcare ranks among the top 50 pediatric research programs in the United States, said Lawrence McAndrews, president and CEO of the National Association of Children’s Hospitals and Related Institutions (NACHRI).
“Moving from the top 50 to the top 10 [requires] a multi-year investment,” McAndrews said. “It’s a journey.”
To compete effectively in the pediatric research world and move up the rankings, money is an essential ingredient — but not a guarantee. “With sustained effort, good management, money and recruitment of researchers, you can make a change,” McAndrews said.
Research is an important part of pediatric hospitals. One-third of children’s hospitals operate child health research centers. Children’s hospitals and pediatric departments of university medical centers account for 35 percent of all National Institutes of Health-funded pediatric research, according to NACHRI.
Hyland said it’s important to recognize how far Children’s has come in the 10 years since the merger of two children’s hospitals — Egleston and Scottish Rite.
“We are one of the top-rated children’s hospitals in the country,” she said. “We can only continue to get better and better, especially when you bring research in the picture.”
For the children
Children’s hospitals nationwide receive:
2.3 million emergency department visits
13 million outpatient visits annually
The average children’s hospital provides care in:
296,801 primary and specialty care visits to ambulatory clinics
54,298 emergency department visits
9,135 outpatient surgeries
Source: National Association of Children’s Hospitals and Related Institutions
Formed in 1998 by the merger of Egleston Children’s Health Care System and Scottish Rite Children’s Medical Center.
Expanded in February 2006 when Children’s began providing services at Hughes Spalding children’s hospital downtown.
Vital signs: 474 staffed beds,
16 neighborhood locations, more than 6,700 employees, access to 1,400 pediatric physicians, 5,900 volunteers
Source: Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta