Las Vegas Sun

September 2, 2014

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Fundraising group may cut ties with UMC

The nonprofit corporation responsible for raising money for University Medical Center's pediatrics division is considering dissolving over a conflict that has already led a national children's fundraising organization to end ties with UMC at a loss of more than $475,000 annually for the hospital.

UMC Foundation, which had worked with the hospital since 1982, has the sole mission of raising funds for the hospital's pediatrics departments. The foundation has raised more than $5.1 million for UMC's pediatrics departments, including the pediatric intensive care unit.

The foundation, however, is considering ending its relationship with the hospital because UMC stopped consulting with it on fundraising projects for the pediatrics departments, said an official with the foundation.

"We were pretty much thrown out," said Susie Black, UMC Foundation secretary, who is vice president of Faiss Foley Warren public relations firm. "A lot of us felt we were slapped in the face."

The foundation is currently consulting with a lawyer as to whether it will disband permanently, thereby ending its two-decade relationship with the hospital, she said.

At issue is UMC's decision in July to hire a new director of development and fundraising, Mary Ellen Heise, who would be responsible for writing grants and general fundraising for the hospital.

According to Black, Heise -- at the direction of the hospital administration -- took over responsibilities that had traditionally been done by the foundation. Even though the foundation recommended Heise for the job, it was no longer consulted regarding any pediatric fundraising efforts, she said.

The main area of dispute involved the Children's Miracle Network annual children's telethon in Las Vegas. For more than 20 years, the foundation had contracted independently with Children's Miracle Network to produce the telethon, which brought in approximately half a million dollars annually to the pediatrics department of UMC.

Lacy Thomas, UMC's chief executive, said another reason that Children's Miracle Network is important is it allows a hospital such as UMC to "put a face on a national program."

Heise, who was responsible for many fundraising projects for the entire hospital, was also assigned to work on the Children's Miracle Network even though in the past the foundation was responsible for the telethon.

"For 20 years, we had a positive, mutually beneficial relationship with UMC, but they made it very clear they were going to do fundraising without us," Black said. "After July there was no relationship (with UMC)."

Heise, however, said that when she was hired to work at UMC in July, she was never told that she would be working with Children's Miracle Network. After learning that the telethon would be part of her responsibility, she felt she was thrust into the middle of a conflict between the hospital administration and the foundation.

"I was in a position where I was given no information," she said.

Another board member of UMC Foundation, Bill Flangas, declined to comment, saying only that the foundation would make a statement in the future. He did say that the foundation "always had a good relationship with UMC."

Thomas said on Monday that he and the hospital never took the Children's Miracle Network annual telethon from UMC Foundation and had planned on continuing a relationship with the foundation.

"At no time were we going to take the telethon away from the foundation," he said.

The result of the foundation informally ending the relationship with UMC, however, is that it left the Children's Miracle Network contract in limbo.

That state of limbo, and other issues between UMC and Children's Miracle Network, led the children's organization to end its two-decade relationship with UMC and take the telethon to St. Rose Dominican, said officials with Children's Miracle Network.

UMC had been just one of more than 170 hospitals around the country with contracts with Children's Miracle Network, which is based in Salt Lake City. Children's Miracle Network charges hospitals a fee to produce the telethon depending on the size of the market where the telethon will be broadcast.

New York City or Los Angeles-based hospitals pay approximately $55,000 annually to produce the telethon, while UMC Foundation paid $22,617 because of the smaller size of the Las Vegas broadcasting market, said Mark Dixon, director of hospital relations, last week.

However, the disputes between the foundation and UMC that led the foundation to threaten to disband left no organization for Children's Miracle Network to work with.

"There was no one doing it in Las Vegas, and we needed some person there to maintain or increase corporate sponsorship," Dixon said regarding UMC Foundation.

In July, Children's Miracle Network still wanted to maintain relations with UMC so it began working directly with UMC to sign a contract for the 2005 children's telethon, said Dixon.

Don Haight, the executive director for contract negotiations with UMC, said he met with Dixon and Scott Burt, executive vice president for Children's Miracle Network, twice to discuss a formal agreement between UMC and Children's Miracle Network.

Haight said he met with the Children's Miracle Network officials on Aug. 19 and 20 in Salt Lake City to discuss signing a contract directly with Children's Miracle Network, and again on Aug. 31 in Las Vegas.

UMC told the children's organization that it wanted to sign a contract that would in effect "eliminate UMC Foundation from the contract process," Haight said.

Problems between UMC and Children's Miracle Network arose, however, mostly in the dealings with Heise, Children's Miracle Network and hospital officials said.

"CMN said they didn't want to work with Mary Ellen Heise," Haight said, who characterized the dispute as a "personality conflict."

Heise, who was asked to resign from UMC in November, said on Monday she had only met with officials from Children's Miracle Network on two occasions and had no disputes or personality conflicts with anyone there.

Her resignation had nothing to do with the foundation or Children's Miracle Network, she said. Instead, she was asked to resign by UMC officials because she was on a six-month probation period and the hospital had a different vision for what the director of development and fundraising would do, she said.

Hospital officials could not comment on Heise, saying it was a personnel matter.

Thomas said on Monday that Heise was taken off any dealings with Children's Miracle Network because the children's organization wanted "a dedicated person" working in Las Vegas, that is, an individual who could spend all their time working on the telethon and related fundraising.

Thomas said the hospital had agreed to provide this individual with office space and that it was done in a very collegial manner. Ultimately, the hospital still wanted to sign a contract with Children's Miracle Network and expected to do so, he said.

The individual who was sent by Children's Miracle Network, however, sees it differently.

Brad Lake, the director of Children's Miracle Network in Las Vegas, said he came to Las Vegas from Utah in September to "salvage" the relationship with the foundation and Children's Miracle Network.

Signing a contract with UMC was a "top priority, and Children's Miracle Network hired me to improve the relations with our national sponsors and resolve the contract issues and get CMN working in Las Vegas again," Lake said last week.

The relationship had many problems from the start, he said, beginning with a lack of office space. He said that for a month and a half, UMC did not provide him with any office space at the hospital and he was forced to work from his home.

"I felt a bit of frustration because (finding office space) is a simple task, and they couldn't get their act together," he said.

He said, however, that he was ultimately frustrated with the lack of interest that UMC showed to Children's Miracle Network.

"The administration was new and didn't know what Children's Miracle Network does or what it could be. Their lack of action was because they didn't know about Children's Miracle Network, and they chose not to find out," he said.

In the end, he said Children's Miracle Network chose to cut the relationship it had with UMC. It decided to bring its annual telethon to St. Rose Dominican Hospital.

Although a contract between the two entities has not yet been signed, Lake said he expects the agreement to be formalized very soon.

"Despite everything that went on at UMC and the frustrations at UMC, we made the decision to go to St. Rose because of where St. Rose will be in five years or 15 years from now," he said. "If we had given it time, we could have gotten back with UMC, but we felt it would have taken a very long time."

An official with St. Rose Dominican said the hospital was very pleased to have received the contract.

"We are very excited that we will be working with Children's Miracle Network," said Mandy Abrams, spokeswoman for St. Rose Dominican, on Friday.

UMC officials found out about Children's Miracle Network's decision to cut ties with UMC and join with St. Rose Dominican in the first week of January. According to Haight, the news came as a surprise because he believed the children's organization was working with UMC to sign a contract.

"I think Children's Miracle Network misled UMC," Haight said. "As far as we were concerned, we were working with CMN."

He said that officials from UMC had continued to work with Lake to sign a contract up until the last week in December.

Thomas disputed some of the complaints by Lake, saying that UMC was in the process of looking for office space at the hospital and offered to house Lake in an offsite location but Lake refused.

But the failure to secure the contract with Children's Miracle Network will not "diminish" the hospital's ability to raise money, he said.

County spokesman Erik Pappa said the county agreed with Thomas.

"We believe that UMC will continue to gain support for its efforts to improve health care in Southern Nevada," Pappa said. "If anything, we anticipate that UMC will leverage its strengths to increase fundraising."

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