August 27, 2019

On August 15, 1969, half a million people gathered on a 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York, for what would become one of the biggest events in music history – Woodstock.

The idea behind the first Woodstock musical festival was to raise enough money to build a recording studio in Woodstock, New York. But the three days that unfolded between August 15 and 18 far exceeded anyone’s expectations and became a cultural touchstone in American history.

My wife Shannon and I recently watched the Netflix documentary Woodstock: Three days that defined a generation, and we were awed by how so many people from all over the country and world were able to gather in one place, listen to some of the greatest musicians in history, and celebrate peace, love and tolerance during such a turbulent time in America’s history.

The peaceful nature of such a large crowd during a time of national unrest made me think of another historic moment – the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom 56 years ago today. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his riveting “I Have a Dream” speech that day to more than 250,000 people. The speech called for civil and economic rights and an end to racism in the United States using some of the most eloquent and inclusive language I have ever heard.

OTM_MLK_Servant Leadership

While the tone of this iconic speech is stern and resolute, there is the overall feeling that the ideal of equality for all must be reached together, not apart. Not by pushing people away, not by calling each other names, and not by taking out our personal frustrations on people who are just trying to go about living their daily lives.

Dominated by the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement, the 1960s also saw the Cuban Missile Crisis and the assassinations of President John F. Kennedy and Dr. Martin Luther King. Yet, even though rife with conflict and uncertainty, there still seemed to be more of an undertone of peace, love and tolerance in the messages spoken during that time versus so much of what we hear today.

I know the world we live in now is very different from the one in which I grew up, but I am an optimist, and I believe that peace, love and tolerance will prevail. I see these characteristics intertwined in the fabric of our culture at Texas Children’s, and it gives me hope. The diverse and inclusive culture we’ve created here, and the tireless work we do side by side to care for all children and women from every walk of life continue to inspire me.

In honor of the anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, I am re-sharing a video I first posted on his birthday earlier this year.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. video

The video contains a brief excerpt of his speech and a few of his quotes that continue to guide me every day. I hope they instill in you the same feeling of hope and unity they give me.

December 4, 2018

When I came to Texas Children’s Hospital 29 years ago, our mission was and always has been to ensure every child in our community and beyond has easy access to health care.

Last week, a study from Georgetown University Health Policy Institute challenged that. The study found that for the first time in nearly a decade, the number of uninsured children in the United States is increasing. Even more concerning, Texas now leads the nation with the largest percentage of children without medical health coverage. This is an unacceptable and alarming trend, and I know we are better than this study would have us believe.

We are the state that took the first man to the moon, the state leading our country into energy independence, the community that rallied its resources and demonstrated to the world what courage and humanity mean after Hurricane Harvey. We are home to an impressive number of Nobel laureates. Yet, we struggle with insuring all children with health coverage. We can and must do better.

In a state with so many resources, a strong economy and so many health coverage options available, families should not be uninsured. Children should not have to rely on a patchwork of emergency services to bridge them from one illness or injury to the next. Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) provide essential health care to children of working families. And I’m proud that at Texas Children’s, we were so committed to increasing access and coverage for children that we created Texas Children’s Health Plan more than 20 years ago.

That commitment is even stronger today. We now cover more than 440,000 children across Texas enrolled in Medicaid and CHIP. We created the nation’s largest pediatric primary care network, and we partner with local organizations at outreach events to increase the number of children and pregnant women with health care coverage.

We also dedicate time and resources to lobby legislators in Austin and Washington and advocate on behalf of our patients and families. This isn’t politics – our aim is to keep CHIP and Medicaid funded for our families. The recent election demonstrated that health care matters to a lot of people. We must find ways to ease or eliminate existing political and administrative barriers for families to get proper health care coverage.

While the Georgetown study heightens awareness about this disturbing trend, I am encouraged because I know Texas Children’s is working every day to make it better. This study just proves there’s still work to do, and children and families need Texas Children’s – all of us – continuing the fight for them. So keep paying attention. Keep voting. Keep talking about this. Together, we can help children’s health care in Texas and the rest of the country get back on track.

January 11, 2018

Nearly 50 years ago, on April 4, 1968, our nation was rocked by the killing of Martin Luther King Jr. It was a sad and senseless end to the life of a servant leader who preached and practiced love and peaceful tolerance.

The day after Martin Luther King Jr.’s death, school teacher Jane Elliott walked into her classroom to greet her third-grade students. Though she entered with a heavy heart, she became a catalyst that her students would never forget. That day, Jane conducted what she called the blue eyes-brown eyes exercise on racism.

Click here to watch a brief excerpt of the exercise.

Essentially, she used the color of the children’s eyes to distinguish and associate them with positive or negative attributes. On the first day of the exercise, the blue-eyed children had the upper hand. They enjoyed all the things young school children appreciate – longer recess, second helpings to lunch and positive affirmation throughout the school day. Conversely, the brown-eyed children were denied these comforts. Instead, they heard repeated comments about how their brown eyes made them less intelligent. Less worthy. In addition, the brown-eyed children had to wear a bright collar around their necks so they could be identified as brown-eyed from a distance.

Within hours, the interaction between the children went from friendly and inclusive to hostile. The blue-eyed children, having heard positive reinforcement all day, performed their lessons with ease and confidence, which of course was good. But they also quickly developed a sense of entitlement and superiority. They teased and picked fights with the brown-eyed students – bright boys and girls who now, amid the exercise, were hesitant, struggling a bit more with their work and feeling discouraged.

A physical trait beyond their control, suddenly controlled them and their interactions with each other. On the second day, Jane flipped the exercise, giving the brown-eyed children the preferential treatment. Needless to say, all the children were relieved to stop the exercise at the end of the second day. And they gladly tossed aside their despised collars – the ones meant to distinguish them from a distance as the non-preferred group.

I think about this experiment, some 50 years later on the eve of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and I think about the sadness on the children’s faces and their dampened spirits. I think about the collars that are not so easily discarded and how some allow them to separate us. And, like Jane, I think, “What can we do?” How can we be catalysts in 2018 when it seems we have found even more ways and reasons to discriminate against people? And how do we overcome a climate that makes all of this seem acceptable?

Perhaps we do exactly as Martin Luther King Jr. did – we live and work in a way that demonstrates love and peaceful inclusion of our brothers and sisters. Regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation or any other element that makes us seem different from each other. We are all potential catalysts who have the power to change the way our communities believe and engage with each other. And our influence on the most impressionable among us – children – is immense. If within hours, otherwise amicable children can swiftly go from harmonious to hostile simply because of the messages they received from their teacher, imagine the impact we have on the children in our care and in our homes. Imagine how that would flourish in the hearts of children as they grow into adults.

What we believe and the words we say shape us and the people around us, in a way that either breaks or binds us. On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, resolve to be a binding agent. Tolerance should be a given – it’s one of the most basic things we owe one another. But I challenge you to do even more. Resolve to truly love. And when it’s challenging, try with all your might to step into your neighbor’s shoes. Imagine the collar hanging heavily from his or her neck. And then remove it. It’s up to us to heal our communities and move on from the real-life exercise that’s gone on much too long.

 

April 27, 2017

I am very proud of the fact that Texas Children’s works so hard to promote a culture of health and wellness for our patients, families, employees and physicians. However, despite our best efforts I continue to receive complaints about a particularly challenging issue – smoking on or near the hospital campus.

Many of you know that I have fought against an outright ban of tobacco use at Texas Children’s, because I realize some patient families and staff smoke to cope with the tremendously challenging situations they face as caregivers. Yet, this is an important topic that clearly needs to be addressed.

Let me start off by sharing an important fact with you. Every year more than 480,000 people die from tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke. You can imagine my concern when I continue to see so many people – both parents and employees – smoking outdoors, in the vicinity of our patients. The very patients we have taken into our care and promised to make better. It is so unfortunate to see a well-intentioned parent taking a patient out for fresh air and then, within minutes, lighting a cigarette near their child.

Now, I will admit to you that seeing an employee smoking any place near our patients and families is even tougher for me. I think of the impression being made on the children who see someone smoking who is obviously a Texas Children’s staff member or employee. We know these children and their families look to us as role models. More importantly, I am thinking of the impact of smoking, not only to their health, but to yours. Your health is just as important to me as that of the precious patients in our care. When you are in good health, you are here, where your teams and patients need you the most. When you are at your best, you can give patients and their families – and your own families – the very best, and isn’t that what we all work and hope for?

So I want to take this opportunity to remind you about the designated smoking retreats we have in place for employees and families. Though it is my heartfelt wish that you abandon the habit altogether, I know it isn’t easy, and that until you are ready to quit, all I can do is encourage you to follow the protocols we have put in place for your health and safety, as well as those of our patients and families. So when you see a colleague, parent or family member smoking outside of designated smoking areas or near our young patients, I encourage you to gently direct them to the appropriate areas. But also take a moment to remind them about the effects of smoking near our patients. It is critical that our families, our physicians, nurses and employees all work as a team at all times to ensure the safest possible environment for our patients’ healing.

I have seen people struggle to give up smoking and know how challenging it can be, so I understand it is more than just a notion. That is why Texas Children’s has invested in smoking cessation programs to help employees earnestly attempting to quit. We have a health coach in Employee Health and Wellness certified in chemical dependency (including tobacco) counseling. Our Employee Health Clinic can also refer you to resources that provide support while you are trying to stop smoking. And most recently, we partnered with MD Anderson to provide an extensive, long-term tobacco treatment program that has proven to be very successful. My hope is to provide you with as many options as possible because I understand there is no one-size-fits-all answer.

As you are thinking about what might work for you, I would like to give you something to help you start: Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking. I think this book can be a helpful tool, but more importantly, I want you to know that I believe in you. I believe you can do it. I believe you can put your health first and be your best self. When you are your best self you have the greatest potential for positively impacting patient outcomes. And it starts with making sure we take good care of ourselves and each other because we have a lot more to do together here at Texas Children’s!

Getting Started

If you would like to receive a copy of Allen Carr’s Easy Way to Stop Smoking, please email Benefits and Well-being Director Jill Fragoso at jlfrago1@texaschildrens.org.

Click here for more information about Texas Children’s smoking cessation programs.

And if you have a colleague you think might need our help, please share this blog post with them.

Designated smoking areas:

  • 6651 Main (Pavilion/Tower E) – covered, colorful screened area along Fannin Street north of TMC entrance 9/driveway
  • 6621 Fannin (West Tower, Abercrombie Building, also designated for Wallace Tower and Feigin Tower) – patio area off of Abercrombie 1 North corridor, between TCH and CHI St. Luke’s
  • 1919 South Braeswood (Meyer Building) – wood fenced area at corner of building driveway, east of Meyer Building Shuttle Stop at Garage 19
  • 18200 Katy Freeway (West Campus) – covered, brick freestanding shelter near the Emergency Center parking and entrance.
  • 17600 Interstate 45 South (The Woodlands Campus) – covered, stone/metal screened area near the Emergency Center entrance.
  • 8080 Stadium Drive – small covered area with bench in parking lot