More than a year has passed since Children's Hospital in St. Paul, Minn., merged with Minneapolis Children's Medical Center, but the effects of the consolidation on donor and board relations are still unfolding.
This past June, the hospitals' two foundations merged, forming Children's Health Care Foundation. Nancy L. Haskin, who headed the foundation at Minneapolis Children's, was tapped to lead the merged foundation amid talk that the decision was politically motivated.
Haskin won the appointment through a prescribed application and interview process but acknowledged that some board members were disappointed because she "was the Minneapolis person."
Control of the foundation is another struggle in a longstanding rivalry between the "Twin Cities." The perception to many is that Minneapolis is a thriving metropolis and aggressive competitor, while St. Paul is a smaller, conservative, family-centered community.
Merging two competing hospitals and foundations, each with its own culture and following, roused deep emotions and feelings of loss among some foundation board members, said Karla A. Williams, former president of Children's Hospital Foundation. To some St. Paul residents with strong attachments to Children's Hospital, there was a perception that Minneapolis was taking over and that their local hospital was becoming "corporatized," she said.
Even though Williams lost her job, she continues to believe the merger will benefit the community. "I have no hesitation that it had to be," she said. But in retrospect, Williams believes there should have been more market analysis and two-way communication with the donor community about the hospitals' merger and the subsequent merger of their foundations.
"I watched donors take the hospital out of their wills, and I couldn't argue with them," she said. While executives may never know how many people dropped the foundation from their wills, "I know we're talking millions (of dollars)," she said.
Those donors may have been lost along the way regardless of what the hospitals did, she admitted. "The real test will be not what we heard or what we think, but what actually occurs in future years."
Haskin also had been concerned about the need to move ahead in a "donor-focused, donor-sensitive way," and initially believed it might take two years to achieve "buy-in" from the hospital boards and the community. Although the foundation would have lost time in getting down to business, there may have been some advantages to stretching out the process, she said.
For example, it may have eased the process of meshing two boards with different cultures. "It's like getting married when you don't know each other very well," Haskin observed. "The courtship was maybe rushed a little bit."
Since the new foundation is just 4 months old, it's too soon to know how donors will respond. But Haskin said fund raising is going well, and she's received no official notice of donors dropping the hospitals from their wills.
But she acknowledged the merger has been an emotional process