In Critical Year, Donors Support Staff, Campus Transformation

The entrance to Suburban Hospital's new North Building.

Photo credit: Anthony Washington

Published in Greater Washington Area - Winter/Spring 2021

When Cathy O’Donnell heard about plans for Suburban Hospital’s first campus expansion and transformation in nearly four decades, the Rockville resident knew she wanted to be a part of the changes. She says she owes her life to the hospital’s doctors and nurses, who treated her after a near-fatal auto accident in 1991. At the time, doctors gave her a 1-in-10 chance of surviving.

“The emergency room and nursing staff are the best in Maryland, and we [she and her husband, Earle] are proud to be associated with the hospital,” O’Donnell says.

The O’Donnells have been donors since 1998. Cathy served on the Suburban Hospital Foundation Board from 2013 to 2015, and the couple recently established a charitable trust to benefit the hospital. They also contributed to the campus expansion campaign, which helped fund the hospital’s North Building.

“We felt the addition to the hospital was essential at that time, and it has proven its worth during the pandemic,” she says.

The 300,000-square-foot North Building opened on March 8, 2020, just a week before the COVID-19 pandemic would force lockdown measures in Maryland. Supported by the generosity of donors, the new building made it possible for Suburban Hospital to face the pandemic head on. The hospital was able to move patients to private rooms and open specialized care units for COVID-19 patients — in large part, thanks to the North Building’s fourth floor and its separate ventilation system.

The new conference center, funded by the Marriott Foundation, was quickly reconfigured into an incident command center, with physical distancing, for emergency planning and response. In addition, the conference center has been the site for the hospital’s community vaccination clinic since January 2021, with the ability to vaccinate as many as 400 people per day.

A section of the seven-story parking garage that opened in 2017 is currently being used as a drive-through COVID-19 testing facility.

The five-year, $270 million project modernized the campus and created a better flow for patients, families and clinicians. Donors contributed more than $65 million, including a $10 million investment from the A. James and Alice B. Clark Foundation.

The North Building, which nearly doubled the size of Suburban Hospital, features 14 operating rooms with the latest advanced technology. There are also new preop rooms and recovery bays, as well as a patient and family resource center, which has also served various purposes throughout the pandemic. Last spring, it served as a central space in which to receive and distribute meals donated by local individuals and organizations. Most recently, it has provided physically distanced desk space for members of the hospital’s Patient and Family Advisory Council (PFAC) and volunteers to respond to requests for assistance from the community with registering for a myChart account so they can book vaccination appointments, when eligible.

The project also included the parking garage, medical office space for specialty physicians, a dedicated driveway entrance for emergency and trauma vehicles, and a new prayer and meditation area.

“This would not have been possible without our donors,” says Cindy Merz, vice president of development for the Suburban Hospital Foundation. “We are grateful for the generous outpouring of philanthropic support that continues to allow Suburban Hospital to provide the highest level of patient-centered clinical care.”

It was an atypical year for the Foundation, which was wrapping up its capital campaign just as the pandemic inspired another generous community response.

The Suburban Hospital Foundation raised $11.3 million in 2020, compared with $4 million in 2019. Of the 2020 contributions, 86% went to the capital campaign and 14% to nursing, emergency preparedness, and other programs and services. Hundreds of donors gave a total of $500,000 to COVID-19 Response Funds. Community members also donated personal protective equipment (PPE), hand-sewn masks and hospital supplies, as well as flowers, meals and care packages for staff.

The generosity didn’t end there. A donation from The J. Willard and Alice S. Marriott Foundation helped launch Suburban Hospital’s RISE (Resiliency in Stressful Events) program in September 2020. Through the program, trained staff members offer peer support for their colleagues.

Donors Irene and Jared M. Drescher laid the groundwork for Suburban Hospital’s Employee Assistance Fund, which aids employees experiencing an unanticipated financial emergency. The demand for support has risen dramatically throughout the pandemic. “We are so fortunate to have resources to provide to our employees in need,” says Merz.

infographic of 2020 donations, showing 3,423 total donors and $1.4 million in gifts for COVID-19, nursing, and other programs.

For John Otsuki, longtime member and current vice chair of Suburban Hospital’s Board of Trustees, donating to the North Building project was an easy decision. As a commercial realtor, he has worked on many large real estate projects, but few were as rewarding as this one, he notes.

“The opening of the new North Building could not have occurred at a better time,” says Otsuki, who chaired the construction committee that oversaw the campus transformation. “After the pandemic winds down, Suburban’s new and existing facilities will return to more typical uses and operations as one of the region’s premier hospitals.”

Adds Merz, “Thanks to the amazing generosity of our donors, Suburban’s North Building and campus transformation have enabled us to give so much back to our community — first, with COVID-19 testing and now, with vaccinations. We are paying forward their kindness and support in so many unexpected ways.

“The North Building has truly been a gift to our region.”

COVID-19 Comes to Suburban

“We couldn’t be prouder of the way our nurses stepped up to the unique challenges posed by the global coronavirus pandemic. You quickly accepted new assignments that took you out of your comfort zones. You learned how to operate testing centers, and how to don and doff personal protective equipment.“

COVID Queens

Suburban’s North Building Opens!

Many Patient and Family Advisors were involved in the planning and execution of Suburban’s new North Building, including providing input on storage space, electrical outlet placement and other fine points that ultimately made the rooms more comfortable.

Suburban Lobby