Not everyone would jump at the chance to lead a hospital in the midst of a global pandemic, but Kathy Donovan is not just anyone. With nearly 35 years of experience laser focused on women and children’s health care, she says sees the opportunity to make a real difference here.
Besides, as the new chief executive officer at Children’s Hospital of Michigan, Donovan is no stranger to navigating her team through crisis. She’s brought with her lessons she learned while chief operating officer at Sunrise Children’s Hospital in Las Vegas during the 2017 Mandalay Bay massacre.
In the short-term, Donovan, a mom of three grown children, is focused on building partnerships and addressing needs in the communities the hospital serves. In the long-term, expect to see the hospital taking what she believes is its deserved spot in the national spotlight among the best of the best children’s hospitals.
She sat down with us to share her thoughts:
Why Detroit and the Children’s Hospital of Michigan?
“… My entire career has been spent trying to advance the welfare and health of children. I married a fire chief, and so our lives surround us by taking care of our community and the people in our community. That’s the way we’ve raised our kids.
What attracted me to coming to Detroit was the opportunity to truly make a difference in the care of kids, not just in Detroit proper, but across the state. I think there is so much we can do to first get recognized for the care that is actually going on here and then to really further the needs in the community in terms of what happens outside the four walls of the hospital.
Food insecurity is a perfect example. There’s a real need in Detroit, especially when it comes to kids. Getting kids into primary care visits, getting in front of illness before it becomes a problem, good nutrition, health education and the importance of exercise and moving our bodies. All those things are reaches within the community.
I think it’s a real chance for us to partner with the children’s hospitals across the state so we can move forward as a unified voice in how we really care for the health and welfare of the wellbeing of the kids in our state.”
You are coming on board amid a pandemic unlike anything we’ve ever seen. But you are no stranger to crisis, having worked in Las Vegas during the 2017 shooting. Tell us a bit about that moment and the skills you learned there to lead the hospital here through this crisis.
“Never in my career did I think I’d be moving through one mass casualty event, let alone two. … This is something you drill for your entire career, but no one ever thinks it will happen to them until it actually does. It was just like you think, it all unfolded, we were all asleep and you get woke up, saying something really bad has happened at your hospital and you get down there and the next five to seven days were just a blur.
We learned a lot from responding to something that large scale and magnitude, which we actually carried forward during the pandemic. It’s all about crisis management and how you standardize your approach to managing the crisis. That was really evident during the COVID-19 pandemic — standardizing processes, protocol, proper PPE, how you take care of your staff during the crisis.
One of the big things I learned post-Vegas shooting was that this lasts a lifetime for these caregivers. There’s a lot of post-traumatic stress that goes along with being involved in these types of crisis. We are going to have that on such a large magnitude because this pandemic was worldwide.
So how do we take care of our health care workers. Once we get on the other side, there will be lots of folks who will struggle with their mental wellbeing and getting through this.”
Do you have some specifics of what you have done so far at Children’s Hospital of Michigan that really sets it apart from the rest?
“I think the biggest thing here at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan where we outpaced frankly the rest of the nation, for good or bad, was the number of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome kiddos that we saw. The children’s hospitals in this state saw far more than anywhere across the nation, so we really were forced into leading how do you treat these kids.
These children that had this syndrome are extremely ill and so working through what is the right combination of therapies and how do we treat these kids on something that’s never been researched or seen before. We paved the way for that.
I think that will definitely be knowledge and research that will go well beyond this current crisis. This is something that folks will be studying for years and years. We saw well over 40 children here and every single one of them walked out of our door, healthy and back with their family. I think that says a lot.”
In addition, she says, the Children’s Hospital staff jumped in to help out the rest of the DMC during the huge surge of COVID patients. “I think it’s really important during times of crisis that we all come together and help each other out.”
There are a lot of parents concerned about the coronavirus, going back to school. What can you say to parents to help them navigate this?
“The best advice that I can give … is do not wait to seek medical care. What we’re seeing is this huge shift in the acuity of our patients. (Emergency Department) numbers are really down.
When parents are bringing their kiddos in, they are well beyond being sick. They are days into their illness, should have been seen days sooner. We put all the safety measures in place to make sure we keep our families safe here. It is safe to come to the hospital. I would tell parents, do not wait. Do not delay care. Kids have chronic illnesses that do not pause for a pandemic.
Right now, the Children’s Hospital is one of the safest places they can be. I would also encourage folks to get into the clinics, primary care visits are extremely important as we ramp up to back to school, making sure the kids get checked out, that they have all of their shots, that they have their physicals and they’re good to go.”
What changes would you like to bring to the hospital going forward?
“I really want to work toward building deeper partnerships with the community and how do we really dive deep into some of the biggest areas of need.”
For instance, behavioral health. “I would like to partner with the other children’s hospitals in the state and the Children’s Foundation to see what kind of an impact we can have on community care related to behavioral health. We also want to work on access points – how do we make the Children’s Hospital more accessible to you in your community. Parents are looking for convenience now and we need to respond to that.
Gaining a national attention for the pediatric care that happens in this state, how do we elevate that to the point where we’re talked about in some of the same conversations as the leaders of children’s health. We do incredible work in terms of research efforts here; we ranked in six subspecialties this year for U.S. News and World Report, which is huge. We want to elevate that to the national level so others know what’s going on here. We are a leader in children’s health care. Advocacy would be the last piece – how do we partner together in this state to move child health in the legislative space.”
What fills your bucket personally?
“Feeling like I’m doing something that makes a difference, whether that be within my personal life space or my professional life space, really making an impact meaningful to the people around me.”
She has done a lot of community service work, from kids to Meals on Wheels to Honor Flights, and intends to continue here.
One thing people should know about you:
“This probably is not going to go over well, but I am a major, major, major (St. Louis) Blues fan. We’re a huge hockey family and have been following the Blues our entire lives.”
Of note, however: Her husband, Gary, already has Lions tickets.
DMC Children’s Hospital of Michigan has been nationally ranked among the Best Children’s Hospitals in six subspecialties by U.S. News & World Report 2020-21. You can check out how they scored in our post here.