April 21, 2011; Source: Houston Chronicle | Ever wonder why you rarely hear about gifts to public hospitals?  Probably because they’re both infrequent and not routinely tracked. 

Yet, when both traditions are ignored, it’s worth paying attention.  But those aren’t the only reasons that make this story from Houston notable, where earlier this week the Harris County Hospital District announced a $15 million grant from the Lester and Sue Smith Foundation for cancer services at its new outpatient clinic. The third reason that makes this story stand out is that when first approached by the hospital and asked if he’d give $2 million to help with its upgrade, Smith, a cancer survivor and oil company executive, said, “Would you be disappointed if I didn’t agree to $2 million?”

According to the Chronicle, when Smith told the hospital he wanted to give $15 million instead, “There was sobbing in the room.” Smith, whose gift to the hospital district is its largest ever, said he’d heard “too many stories of people coming to Ben Taub Hospital when it’s too late, when the cancer’s already spread. I want all of Houston to receive the level of care that Sue and I receive.” 

Hospital officials say not only is the campaign on target, but it is helping combat the perception that tax-supported institutions don’t need to raise funds from private sources. When completed in 2012, the new clinic will have the capacity for 160,000 patient visits a year and is expected to cut down both waiting times and the need to send patients elsewhere for treatment.—Bruce Trachtenberg