January 19, 2017 | (21) Comments

I note the obvious differences in the human family.

Some of us are serious, some thrive on comedy.

Some declare their lives are lived as true profundity,

and others claim they really live the real reality.  

The variety of our skin tones can confuse, bemuse, delight,

brown and pink and beige and purple, tan and blue and white.

I note the obvious differences between each sort and type,

but we are more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.

These are intriguing thoughts from Human Family, a poem written by the late American poet and civil rights activist Maya Angelou. An Apple commercial featuring Angelou’s reading of this poem aired in the days before and after the recent presidential election. Of course that was no accident. Angelou’s poem is a refreshing reminder that we should all consider, particularly during this time when our political climate is riddled with such negativity and divisiveness. Her thoughtful words refocus us on the aspirations we share for our families, our communities and our world, rather than on the differences perceived as dividers.

I certainly understand that people are very passionate about politics and our elections, but I choose to believe that at the very core, it is driven by our love for country. Yes, we have different ideas about what is best for our country’s future, but I believe we can all come together and overcome these challenges and realize that we, as Americans, are far more alike than we are different. Over the next few months and years, what I hope and pray for our nation, is that we will regain our focus and dedication. We are the United States of America, and we are indeed one amazing nation. Fostering an inclusive culture is intrinsic to our success.

My wonderful 87-year-old mother frequently says, “Mark, I’ve never seen the world and our nation in such a mess.” I know where my mom is coming from, but I remind her that America is resilient and strong. America, like every nation, has had challenges. And although the issues we face as a nation are challenging enough, we have gone through much tougher times in our nation’s history, like World War II and the Civil War.

I think one of the byproducts of our current climate is going to be the incredible and wonderful diversity so many people actually are embracing more than ever in America today. Texas Children’s is a demonstration of that assertion. Embracing all races, genders and religions was at the core of our founding.

Our founding fathers, James Abercrombie and Leopold Meyer, wanted Texas Children’s to be a hospital for all children regardless of race, religion and economic circumstances. They wanted to make sure that we were here to take care of all children regardless of that family’s ability to pay. That principle has been woven into the fabric of our culture at Texas Children’s – we are all for one and one for all. We are not focused on “I” or “me.” WE work together to meet the needs of families across our great nation who come to us for care – including the underserved, the uninsured and the disenfranchised.

That is why we created Texas Children’s Health Plan – the nation’s first HMO for children – our community health centers, our second community hospital opening in The Woodlands later this year, and supported the implementation of the STAR Kids program to help families manage the care of children with complex medical needs. Many of the families we serve are those who, due to circumstances often times beyond their control, simply could not access or afford the health care they deserve.

United, we stand in the gap at Texas Children’s to extend a helping hand and give these families the lift they need. I trust that our nation will do the same. I trust we will find a way to collectively unify and emerge stronger. We will do that because regardless of the news and naysayers, I believe we want so many of the same things for our nation. We are after all, more alike, my friends, than we are unalike.

July 2, 2016 | (3) Comments

Like most of you, I look forward to the holidays and all the traditions – and good food – that go along with most of them. In fact, some of my fondest memories from childhood specifically revolve around July 4th – or Independence Day – and the grand, all-day festivities my family and I enjoyed with our church congregation. I feel blessed to have such amazing memories.

While I most certainly will think of those wonderful summer celebrations from time to time this weekend, I cannot help but linger a bit on the origin of this holiday and what it really means to us.

As we all learn in grade school history, Independence Day honors the birth of our great country. In June 1776, representatives of America’s 13 colonies contemplated a resolution to declare independence from Great Britain. On July 2, the Continental Congress voted in favor of independence, and the Declaration of Independence was drafted by Thomas Jefferson.

Nearly 90 changes were made to the draft before the Continental Congress adopted the final version on July 4, 1776. This extraordinary document has continued to serve and guide us for 240 years. What an incredible, enduring legacy.

As we celebrate Independence Day, remembering that feels so empowering. The spirit of those who birthed this fledgling country and established its foundation demonstrates the power of a great vision and the strength of people bound to fulfill a common dream. Our country’s founding reminds us that being American is such an honor, as well as a responsibility to carry that pioneering spirit forward.

The story of Texas Children’s founding is similarly inspiring. We, too, had forefathers with a great vision and pioneering spirit. Driven by the same type of ambitions that spurred our country’s leaders nearly 200 years prior, our founders helped establish the little hospital that would become one of the best in the world, renowned for advancing care and leading medical breakthroughs.

Today, we are so fortunate to be the beneficiaries of both legacies – that of our country’s founders as well as Texas Children’s founders. From them, we inherited the freedom to aspire, create, build and achieve. It is an honor for the nearly 14,000 of us to stand on those two legacies, bound by Texas Children’s mission of creating a healthier future for children and women all over the world.

Good food on the 4th is most certainly something I relish, but what I cherish and embrace today and everyday is the freedom to make a difference that will endure for generations.

Happy, blessed Independence Day to all!

January 26, 2016 | (7) Comments

I love that we at Texas Children’s are not afraid to speak up when change needs to happen. Many of you email me your ideas about how we can improve patient care, operate more efficiently and ensure our patients and their families have the best possible experience while they are here.

I received one such email from Becky White, one of our phenomenal nurses in the NICU. She wrote me in response to one of my blog posts, “In their shoes.” The post was about customer service and what all of us can do every day to ensure patients and their families have an exceptional experience at Texas Children’s each time they walk through our doors. Becky shared her experiences with me as a parent of a Texas Children’s patient and as a NICU nurse.

I was incredibly touched by her email and, subsequently, invited her to my office to hear more about her story, her perceptions and her ideas on how we can make Texas Children’s even better from both a quality of care and quality of service perspective. Becky and her nursing manager, Rebecca Schiff, a mother of twins who had spent some time in our NICU, both had me sitting on the edge of my seat, eager to hear more about their personal and professional experiences and their insights.

Before leaving my office, Becky told me how surprised she was that I took the time to respond to her email. She didn’t think CEOs did that sort of thing, but as you all know, I try to respond to every email I receive. And when Becky asked to shadow me for one day so she could see firsthand what our administrative leadership team does behind the scenes, I graciously accepted and invited her to attend a day of leadership forum meetings.

Surrounded by leaders from different areas of the organization – like Marketing/PR, Human Resources, Finance, Governance, and Quality and Patient Safety – Becky was thoroughly impressed by how hard everyone works, the meticulous collaboration and communication involved and the diverse skill sets our leaders bring to the table to help each of us advance our mission. She said she realized how much our leadership team is working on behalf of our frontline staff to meet their needs so they can fulfill the health care needs of our patients. Essentially, Becky got a glimpse of Texas Children’s that our nurses and many of our frontline staff don’t normally see.

Click here to read Becky’s blog post on Voice of Nursing about her experience.

A month or so later, I had the opportunity to experience Becky’s world in the NICU. Despite the sound of sporadic, beeping alarms, the NICU environment was quiet and serene, almost like a chapel at times. As I walked through the unit, one thing captured my attention: no matter where I turned, our nurses were working seamlessly as a team, making certain our tiniest, most fragile patients were taken care of. Everyone was respectful of his or her colleagues, and everyone was very sensitive to the families’ needs.

During my visit, I met with our NICU leadership team, and I appreciated their openness and candor as they shared their areas of concern and the collaborative improvements they’ve made to significantly reduce our CLABSI rates in the NICU, among other things. Seeing how hard they work and how they’re giving everything they’ve got to care for these sick babies and their families was inspiring.

There was a wonderful mutual respect and appreciation between Becky and me. She looked at the administrative side of things, and she said “Wow. Everybody is giving it their best to make Texas Children’s an exceptional place for patients and their families to receive the best quality of care and service.” Then I immersed myself in her world, and I felt that same appreciation and admiration.

My experience with Becky was just another reminder that, whether we work at the bedside or behind the scenes, everyone matters, and everyone’s perspective has value. Everyone’s work is essential at Texas Children’s, and when we all share the same intense passion for the mission, we drive it forward.


July 3, 2015 | (11) Comments

Anyone who sits with me long enough is bound to hear a story or two about my upbringing in the church. Some of my best memories as a child are of times spent there with my family. One of my absolute favorite memories is of our church’s Fourth of July picnic at Odom Lake.

It was one of the grandest events of the year for our church, and all the families would come. In total, about 400 or 500 of us turned out. The ladies all brought coleslaw, potato salad and other side dishes, and the church provided the fried chicken or barbecue. And every single family had their White Mountain ice cream maker in tow. I remember how my brother Greg and I would take turns making the ice cream – he’d sit on top while I cranked, and then we’d switch. We always made either vanilla, banana or peach ice cream.

I loved how generations of families were there – grandparents, parents and all the kids. We’d play softball, volleyball and horseshoes, and it was just a really good time. One of the parts that amazed me most was what happened after dinner. As the sun set, Brother Hugh Bumpas, our pastor, would wade into the water, as the entire congregation gathered along the banks of Odom Lake.

Brother Bumpas would give a sermon, always acknowledging our courageous military men and women, and we’d sing patriotic songs before he began the baptisms. He would baptize about 25 or 30 people every year, right there in the lake on the Fourth of July, and I always thought that was pretty awesome.

Then once it was dark, the fireworks show started. Everybody settled down on their blankets with their families, and we’d watch the fireworks light up the sky and crackle down over the lake. The show went on for about an hour, and it was the best ever. Celebrating the Fourth of July is one of my best childhood memories. The fireworks, the families, the friends … the freedom to fellowship just as we pleased. It’s something I think about every year as we acknowledge our country’s Independence Day.

My family joined hundreds of other Baptist families by that lake to celebrate in a way that was special to us. And all over the nation, every year, other families celebrate this same holiday in countless ways that are meaningful to them. That’s one of the strengths of our great nation. We were founded on principles of freedom. The freedom to dream and to pursue what’s important to each one of us. And our country became great because we grew into a place where dreams could be fulfilled in a way that they could not be elsewhere. Our founding fathers pledged their lives, their fortunes and their sacred honor in support of these freedoms.

Texas Children’s Hospital began in much the same way. Our founding fathers, Jim Abercrombie and Leopold L. Meyer, committed a generous amount of their fortunes to found Texas Children’s in 1954 with the conviction that every sick or hurt child could come here for care, regardless of race, religion or ability to pay. More than 60 years ago, they had the vision and embraced the freedom to create a place where healing was not limited, where all would be welcome. And to this day, we are still deeply rooted in this belief.

Every day, we advance that legacy by pledging our sacred honor to care for all the children, women and families who come to us for help and healing. So when I think about the Fourth of July, my mind immediately goes to the food, fun and fellowship we enjoyed by that lake so many years ago. But what settles in my heart today is a deep appreciation for the freedom we all enjoy to strive for whatever we define as the American dream.

Happy Fourth of July and God bless.