| 2014 Q3 | story by EMILY MULLIGAN | photos by STEVEN HERTZOG |
Growing up on a farm in western Kansas, Kathy Clausing-Willis could not have known what her career would be. And she says many people still don’t understand exactly what she does. However, that hasn’t stopped her from pouring hard work and passion into her job, benefiting countless people in Lawrence and Douglas County, as the vice president and chief development officer for the Lawrence Memorial Hospital Endowment Association (LMHEA) for the past 17 years.
The LMHEA is the philanthropic arm of Lawrence Memorial Hospital, a community non-profit hospital, owned by the city although it receives no tax revenue from the City of Lawrence or Douglas County. All excess revenues are re-invested in hospital services, equipment and facilities.
“The bottom line is that we’re as good as you make us. If you don’t come here and you don’t use us, that doesn’t help. LMH is one of the top 100 community hospitals in the country. We are thrilled, but then it’s also scary, because we want to retain that,” Clausing-Willis said.
In order to not affect patient costs, any large capital outlays or philanthropic activities that may require additional funds above hospital revenue rely on the LMHEA for funding. The Endowment has transferred about $20 million to the hospital from philanthropic gifts, according to Clausing-Willis.
“Because it is a community hospital, it is required to serve even those who cannot pay. The Endowment Association allows people who do have funds to donate them for the betterment of the hospital,” said Larry McElwain, CEO of The Chamber.
Clausing-Willis was LMH CEO Gene Meyer’s first hire when he came in 1997. He said he hired her not only to raise funds, but also to generate goodwill in the community.
“She is successful first and foremost because her personal characteristic of never being satisfied keeps her going on a day-to-day basis,” Meyer said. “The other thing that keeps her relevant is that we have purposely included her as a key member of our management team. By that, she has exposure to and input in to changes in our industry.”
During Clausing-Willis’ tenure at the LMHEA, the hospital has grown tremendously, both in physical size and in services offered. In 2009, the hospital completed a $45 million expansion of facilities and services for emergency, surgery, maternity, intensive care and critical care.
Clausing-Willis and her team have launched a campaign this year to renovate the hospital’s fourth floor, the only part of the hospital that has not been revamped. The Hearts of Gold Ball this past spring raised $500,000 toward the Endowment’s $2 million goal for the $4 million project.
Meyer said that patients on the fourth floor typically average a length of stay at LMH from seven to 14 days, either because they require physical rehabilitation or are unable to go home directly from their hospital stay.
“The fourth floor is 15,000 square feet, which is the largest clinical area. Some rooms are semi-private now – all rooms will be private, with a nice family mingling area next to the dining area,” Clausing-Willis said. “I was on the retiree task force [to attract retirees to Lawrence], and the first thing that they care about is health care. We have to be positioned to care for those folks as a community.”
It is this kind of community awareness and understanding that has made Clausing-Willis such a positive force in her work with the LMHEA.
“She’s persistent, disciplined, dedicated, passionate – she’s got the whole package of skills needed to sell a community hospital,” McElwain said. “She does it because she sees the value of what the hospital does and sees the big picture of the hospital in the community.”
Clausing-Willis’ life and work experience have combined with her personality to make her successful in her job.
“Kathy is so engaged and so loyal to the organization that it just shows through in what she’s doing,” Meyer said.
When pressed, Clausing-Willis admits that she has some inherent qualities that help with her work for the Endowment.
“I lead by example,” Clausing-Willis said. “I think that’s a gift I’ve been given. I have an ability to inspire and help people follow a vision.”
Clausing-Willis emphasizes that she does not and cannot accomplish anything by herself for the Endowment.
“Everything that’s done is done as a team. I work with a lot of great people on the administrative team, endowment team, hoards of volunteers, board members in the community and the medical staff,” Clausing-Willis said.
Clausing-Willis and her team are not just about construction projects, but also a full range of small to medium-sized investments for the hospital.
“It’s not just about what I can get from somebody; it’s about what it can do. We all want to have a legacy, make a difference, no matter how large or small – and that’s what we do here. It’s up to us to figure that out for each person,” Clausing-Willis said.
She points to the legacy of Cindy Murray, a former obstetrical nurse at LMH, whose family has contributed a significant amount of money to fund a “cutting-edge” birthing center in perpetuity. She also mentions Jamie’s Wish, a fund that provided $140,000 to renovate the chemotherapy infusion rooms in the Oncology Center, in memory of Jamie Pursley, who died of breast cancer.
The LMHEA has given to every department in the hospital at some point, including flat-screen computers to the business office.
Not all of the Endowment’s contributions are directly medical, but they all go toward improving the hospital’s atmosphere. A case in point is the hospital’s Crisis Assistance and Resources for Employees (CARE) fund, which can provide up to $700 for an employee’s medical or utility bills, car repairs or holiday meals through an application process. That boost allows the employee to focus on his or her work, even during personal turmoil.
In return, about 65 percent of employees contribute to the LMHEA annually. That is the highest contribution rate in the country for hospitals, Clausing-Willis said. She attributes it to the hospital being there when employees need it most.
Other contributions to the hospital and community by the Endowment are more educational than financial.
“Kathy has taken the hospital outside the walls of the hospital and done seminars with businesses, tax planners, attorneys and accountants, to educate them on specific topics and also talk about what the hospital is doing,” McElwain said.
Clausing-Willis also has been part of a hospital push toward community education and wellness, offering clinics for people with diabetes and other outreach, including a permanent presence at the new Lawrence Public Library.
“Hospitals are going to be judged by how healthy their community is,” Clausing-Willis said. “We do a lot to encourage health and wellness, and that’s something we’re going to get better at.”
Although Clausing-Willis specializes in not settling for the status quo, she also has seen firsthand that life is too precious not to sit back and bask in accomplishments. That may be where her farm background best applies to her work with the Endowment.
“I grew up on a farm. I got up really early, I had chores, and I worked really hard. Then, you have to have a lot of fun and celebrate,” Clausing-Willis said.
Meyer says that in a time and especially in an industry that has high turnover in jobs, there are solid reasons that Clausing-Willis has stayed and evolved with LMHEA.
“You know where she stands; you know what she stands for. Her emotional involvement at LMH is clear. I so very much appreciate her continued loyalty to LMH,” Meyer said. ■