Boca Raton – In one of the largest donations of its kind, a $75 million gift from a local benefactor brings Boca Raton Community Hospital a significant step closer to raising $250 million for a teaching hospital that could transform health care in the region. The donation from the Schmidt Family Foundation — the largest to a nonprofit community hospital in recent history — was announced Tuesday morning at a gathering of officials from the hospital, Florida Atlantic University and the University of Miami, Schmidt family members and government leaders. It was heralded for advancing the effort to revolutionize medical care in Palm Beach County. ‘This is a historic day, I believe,’ said Gary Strack, the hospital’s chief executive officer. ‘It’s making it possible for us to continue building our vision into a bricks-and-mortar reality.’ The new hospital will be named the Charles E. Schmidt Medical Center in honor of the family’s patriarch, who started his career as a farm-equipment entrepreneur during the Great Depression and later became a bank tycoon in South Florida. Schmidt died in 1996 but the family foundation continues to give millions to the community. Construction of the medical center will begin in 2008 on 38 acres on FAU’s campus. At twice the size of the current facility on Meadows Road, the 530-bed medical center will cost about $650 million to build. The hospital plans to borrow $300 million to $380 million. In addition to the Schmidt Family Foundation, the hospital has raised about $50 million — bringing it to about half of its fundraising goal in just one year. Richard Schmidt, of the foundation, has been considering such a donation during the last two years as chairman of the hospital’s board of trustees.
Over the past seven to eight months, ‘We determined it was something we wanted to do,’ he said. ‘Instead of observing the process, we decided to become a part of it.’ In his remarks at the gathering at Avitat Aviation Park, Schmidt appealed to the community to help fund the medical center, which will serve as a teaching ground for University of Miami medical school students at FAU. Already, 48 students are taking classes at the university. The medical center will be used for students’ clinical rotations, instead of having the students go to Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami. ‘If you haven’t thought of philanthropy, maybe now is the time to consider it,’ said Richard Schmidt, who runs his own investment company. ‘This is something in our own backyard. It’s here right now.’ By the end of 2008, the hospital will have $40 million of the total donation in hand. The rest will come over time, but officials did not specify how long.
According to data analyzed by The Advisory Board Co. in Washington, D.C., the gift is the largest in more than 25 years to a community hospital. For-profit and academic hospitals are not considered community hospitals. Officials highlighted how the medical center could reshape the county’s medical landscape, which has been struggling with such hefty issues as on-call emergency coverage. It could also pump up the local economy and attract physicians and patients from around the region — and possibly the country. Dr. Pascal Goldschmidt, dean of UM’s medical school, said the medical center should change the perspective of residents who leave the county for care. Goldschmidt said about 30 percent of patients with significant illnesses do so. ‘The right way to deliver medicine is to bring it through a wonderful medical center like Schmidt,’ he said. Even before the new medical center is completed by 2011, Boca Community will be known as the Schmidt Medical Center.
The excitement over the transformation was palpable Tuesday. A red carpet led about 200 people into the cavernous airport hangar as greeters told to passers-by, ‘Welcome to the amazing journey.’ Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp praised the public/private partnership between FAU, a state school, and the private UM. ‘In so many ways, this is a win-win,’ Kottkamp said, noting how the medical center will address the shortage of medical workers. The $75 million donation falls in line with the Schmidt Family Foundation’s past philanthropy at FAU and the hospital. The family has given about $30 million to FAU, with $15 million in 1998 for the school’s biomedical sciences building. About $3.5 million has gone to the hospital.