Leonard Bernstein. Winston Churchill.
Lucille Ball. Alexander Graham Bell. If you've heard
about how these and five other deceased icons of the
20th century are “appearing” in television and print ads for Johns Hopkins Medicine, that eyebrow you raised has been in good company. After all, with the exception of F. Scott Fitzgerald, whose wife was a Hopkins patient in the 1930s, there is no obvious connection between this eclectic batch of ultra-achievers and U.S. News & World
Report's top-ranked hospital.
Furthermore, to viewers in New York City and its environs, where the ads are airing on national Sunday morning news programs, and to readers of Forbes and the New York Times Magazine, where the print versions are running, the word from Hopkins departs unmistakably from the typical messages—invariably aimed at attracting more patients—that nearly all other hospitals put out.
Instead, seeing the Iron Horse round the bases, we're asked, “What if Lou Gehrig played just a few more seasons? How much longer could we cheer?”
And viewing Satchmo at the bandstand: “What if Louis Armstrong never suffered a heart attack? How much more could we dance?
“We're about to find out,” the ads continue. “At Johns Hopkins, doctors and scientists are working together to discover bold new cures that will change medicine forever. Be part of the transformation. Visit johnshopkins.org.”
My father died three weeks after his 43rd birthday. I was 18, old enough to grasp with white-hot clarity that answers to questions I'd yet to ask him had been silenced forever, that the world had become a poorer place because he was no longer here to catch it being ridiculous. He is written of in no history book; his name would mean nothing to you. But all these years later, watching Winston Churchill being hailed in a victory parade, it is my father's absence I feel when the questioner wonders, “How much more could we give?”
These ads are meant to plumb deep.
Yet why is Hopkins , easily among the most well-recognized names in medicine, taking such an extraordinary step? The father of a pediatric patient here nailed the need several years ago. Rising near the conclusion of a town meeting—the bimonthly forum where institutional leaders update faculty, staff and anyone else who feels like attending—the man said, in effect, “Your care is superb. But your old buildings are terrible. When are you going to do something about them?”
Puzzling through the logistics of replacing the most
seriously outdated facilities on a landlocked campus
had, of course, been occupying a prominent spot on
planners' to-do lists for years. And for much of the
1990s, attention focused on building the modern new
structures that are home to the Johns Hopkins Sidney
Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center: the Harry and Jeanette
Weinberg Building for patient care and the Bunting•Blaustein
Building, where oncology researchers are creating some
of the most promising new cancer treatments in decades.
But it wasn't until 2000—when Hopkins traded land it had bought a few blocks from the campus for an eight-acre, Baltimore city-owned parcel immediately south of the Weinberg Building—that planners could see with fresh eyes how to fit in two more unquestionably needed clinical buildings. Now, thanks to the proximity of the unexpected new acreage, they would be able to off-load such nuts-and-bolts underpinnings as a new parking garage, materials-handling facilities and power plant upgrades. And suddenly, the long-talked-about structures that would replace half the existing hospital—a cardiovascular and critical care tower and new children's and maternal hospital—sped into position as the number-one priority of both Hospital President Ron Peterson and Hopkins Medicine Dean/CEO Ed Miller.
All they needed was a monster chunk of money.
If John Zeller drew a sharp breath in 2000 when Hopkins Medicine agreed to raise fully half of the $2 billion goal set by the Johns Hopkins Institutions' “Knowledge for the World” campaign, he's never let on. Zeller, who was the associate vice president for development and alumni relations for both Hopkins Medicine and the Johns Hopkins Institutions, came to Baltimore in 1995 to head the Fund for Johns Hopkins Medicine. When he signed on, Medicine's five-year fund-raising target was $455 million for, among other things, School of Medicine endowments and construction of the cancer treatment and research buildings. The final tally in that campaign ended up overshooting the mark by $250 million. And today, with nearly three years left on the current campaign clock and Zeller leaving Hopkins to become chief fundraiser for the University of Pennsylvania , Medicine is already closing to within nine-tenths of its $1 billion goal.
Given that kind of success, it's hard to fathom how any challenge could wedge itself into the numbers. But the very strength of Hopkins ' research and clinical care missions, means that what most donors want to support is the extraordinary work of the faculty. As a result, even though the Fund for Johns Hopkins Medicine staff has swelled the amount already promised for buildings to $110 million—including a $20 million anonymous commitment for the children's and maternal hospital and several gifts in the $10 million to $15 million range—there's still a shortfall of $165 million.
Drumming up interest in bricks and mortar challenges fund-raisers around the country. In many cases, hefty contributions to an institution's programs hinge on the fact that proper buildings to house the programs are already in place. That was the case with Sidney Kimmel's $150 million gift to Hopkins ' cancer center, for example. Furthermore, most large philanthropic gifts tend to be spread out over several years. Construction projects require cash.
“There's no easy answer for why people don't want to give for buildings,” says Hopkins Hospital President Ron Peterson. “It's a curious thing. More gifts are made to the School of Medicine than to the Hospital, and most gifts to the School of Medicine are for endowments and programs. You would think that having the opportunity to name a building would be an inducement. On the other hand, that requires at least a third of the total amount needed for construction, and very few people are in that league.”
Ed Miller is among the first to acknowledge that turning to high-profile advertising is guaranteed to produce skeptics. He understands; he's been there himself. “This is something we've never done before,” says the dean. “It's new, it's different, there is no obvious return on investment. But a lot of our trustees think we don't do nearly enough to promote what we do, and I don't believe there's a finite list of people who can understand why this institution is so valuable. Sidney Kimmel and others who have never been our patients come here and say, Wow, I want to help in a meaningful way. In fund raising, if you're not thoughtful about what you're doing, you can end up leaving a lot of money on the table.”
Both Miller and Peterson are convinced there's far more risk in not moving forward. “Time is running out on our older facilities,” says Peterson. “The Osler and Halsted buildings were designed in the 1920s and built in the early '30s. The units are long and narrow, like a submarine; the space just doesn't work with today's sophisticated treatments and equipment. It's the same thing in the Children's Center, which was built in the early '60s, before anyone thought that 80 percent of hospitalized kids would have a parent staying in.”
“Even if you could gut the old buildings,” adds Miller, “the cost of work-arounds is enormous. Practicing modern-day, safe medicine isn't about building a Taj Mahal, it's about having the best air filtration, the best power, the best way to handle infection, the best way to ensure patient privacy and confidentiality.”
The tipping point for Miller was the amount of homework that Eisner Communications—the agency producing the ads—put into its concept. “They spent a lot of time talking to people here, and when they made their presentation to us,” Miller says, “we had an instant comfort level that they understood what makes us special.
When Eisner Vice President Joseph Bruce set off for New York to test the Hopkins ad campaign his agency had in mind with two focus groups of people of substantial means, he was looking to hone the “call for action.” He got an earful.
The version of the ads Bruce showed came with a soft-sell ending that focus-group members—all of whom had recently made a significant contribution to a medical organization—said left them wondering what differentiates Hopkins from other institutions with strong reputations. Everyone got the message that medicine here is aimed at helping people lead longer, more productive lives. All understood that the campaign seeks contributions, not patients. But they felt that Hopkins ' invitation to viewers to participate in something it obviously considers momentous needed to be far more aggressive. “Don't beat around the bush,” said the New Yorkers. “If you're going to come into this city with advertising, you'd better have one heck of a story to tell.”
These opinion givers were duly impressed when Bruce cited examples of Hopkins ' past achievements (launching cardiac surgery) and current research (rebuilding damaged hearts). They weren't convinced, however, that other medical centers couldn't recite their own litanies of accomplishments. What did ignite sharp interest turned out to be the same thing that caught Bruce's own attention when he interviewed faculty here—their uncommon penchant for tapping each other's expertise to move knowledge forward. “Both focus groups,” he says, “not only understood why this characteristic makes Hopkins uniquely poised to realize the full potential of a new age of discovery, they found it compelling. Interestingly, at least two respondents even understood that many medical institutions work on the ‘star' system rather than the culture of collaboration.”
Equally important, focus group members felt it would be perfectly appropriate to ask ad viewers and readers to visit a dean's Web site where they can delve into Hopkins ' funding priorities and what it expects to accomplish. (“No one,” says Bruce, “is thinking that you can run a few ads and have someone pick up the phone and give $25 million.”) The plan calls for site visitors who e-mail Hopkins and say they're interested in helping to be contacted by either Miller or a senior representative from the Fund for Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Another key part of the New York campaign is carefully crafted social gatherings, some of which are being hosted by Forbes magazine. Leading New York philanthropists are being invited to attend these get-togethers to rub shoulders with medical center leaders, faculty and longtime JHU supporters like New York-based wealth management expert Morris Offit.
“I like everything about the campaign—the content of the ads as well as making the initiative in New York ,” says the University alum who's been championing the institution for more than three decades. “As long as the ads spell the name right and have a positive image, they can't go wrong. Johns Hopkins Medicine is a national treasure, not just local or regional. It's vital that we broaden the base of support, that we reach out to more people who'll want to be part of the mission.”
And so those attending the gatherings can get a taste of why they should consider supporting new buildings at Hopkins, they will see a brief film that features faculty members who describe the specifics of what is really different about this place—which in the end boils down to two powerful words: translational medicine.
In recent years, translational medicine—loosely defined as converting basic science discoveries into clinical care—has become a buzzword that's taken the country by storm. “To date,” two Massachusetts General Hospital physicians wrote in The Boston Globe in 2000, “we have not trained anyone to navigate the nebulous regions between the lab and the clinic. We are just now beginning to realize that the region between biology and medicine is not a simple extension of either; rather it represents a discrete intellectual space, a nascent academic discipline.”
At Hopkins —where the very concept of moving discovery from bench to bedside was born in the United States , where the institution's mission of research, teaching and patient care was considered radical when its doors opened in 1889—the reaction to such newfound insight is, Say what?
“We were doing translational research before the word was invented,” says cardiologist Joshua Hare. “That's been our focus for over a hundred years.”
Using adult stem cells taken from bone marrow and the heart itself, Hare is working with cardiology chief Eduardo Marbán and others to fix what was once considered the irreparable damage that a heart attack inflicts on heart muscle.
“This is a completely new wave of medicine,” Hare says. “We're able to be on the cutting edge of that revolution because of the philosophy here, of people who can work together. We're not thinking, What is the state-of-the-art therapy? We're thinking, What don't we know about our patients' disease? We've got a damaged heart, and the conventional wisdom was, A patient has to live with that; there's nothing we can do. So we said, Let's really focus on that biology. I gave Eduardo samples of human heart cells and he developed the methods to purify these cells and grow them in large quantities. Now we have this fabulous new concept that we were able to develop together in a period of months.”
“This environment,” says Children's Center Director George Dover, “is unique in American medicine. As I go around the country, I can pick out a ‘bigger' of everything that we do. But Hopkins has never had an impact by getting bigger or by doing a thousand of something. We have an impact because we have created an institution that allows brilliant people to take ideas from the lab to the bedside and back to the lab—and in doing so, to come up with entirely new directions. Our mission isn't to practice medicine, it's to transform it.”
The man who conceived of this institution was a visionary before his time,” says Cardiac Surgeon in Chief Bill Baumgartner, whose current line of research was sparked a dozen years ago when a resident in his lab observed how little was known about preventing neurological injury during heart operations. “Johns Hopkins had no medical background, but he started the institution in a way that was unheard of in the 1800s. Then, hospitals took care of patients, but didn't do the work to find the next treatments, the next cure. Here, the focus has always been on developing the new ideas. The research component differentiates us from most other institutions, even well-known institutions, because our findings can be applied directly to patients. We're at Hopkins to find out what's going to be better.” Will New York listen? According to Miller, the worst that can happen is nothing. And that's the one result he finds it impossible to envision.
I know what we need to do,” says the dean, “and I know we're going do it. We've got the doctors, we've got the researchers, we've got the programs that will transform medicine. All we need is a place to put them.”