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RSW Living Magazine

The Community Steps Up: Five Years of Support for Golisano Children’s Hospital

May 10, 2022 01:11PM ● By Kathy Montgomery

This year marks five years since Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida opened its new home. The seven-story, 135-bed state-of-the-art hospital was the realization of a dream more than 20 years, and thousands of people, in the making. Half of its $200 million cost was funded through philanthropy. In all, about 14,000 people, including schoolchildren, donated to the construction of the hospital. 

Although Health Park Medical Center began serving children in 1994, advances in pediatric care and the need to offer welcoming spaces for children fueled a desire to build a hospital exclusively for children. As the only children’s hospital between Tampa and Miami, Golisano Children’s Hospital is home to the region’s first level III neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) and perinatal intensive care unit (PICU). It includes comprehensive pediatric services for children from infancy through age 18, including a 24-hour pediatric emergency department and hematology-oncology unit. 

Throughout its history, the children’s hospital has been about people—the children receiving life-saving treatments and community members who embrace children through philanthropic efforts. That support continues to this day. 

The momentum to build Golisano Children’s Hospital started in 2012 with a $20 million gift from B. Thomas Golisano, a philanthropist and founder of Paychex, a payroll processor. The gift was a challenge grant, the largest in the hospital’s history. It took just one year for the community to rise to the challenge and match his donation.  

In 2015 SWFL Children’s Charities, host of the annual Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, made the largest contribution in its organization’s history, a $1.2 million challenge grant to support the hospital. To date, SWFL Children’s Charities has donated more than $21 million to fund programs, including the establishment of the SWFL Children’s Charities Eye Institute, which provides pediatric ophthalmology services. 

Support for the hospital did not stop once it was built. In 2017, for example, John and Valerie Petracco developed the Porsche Parade with members of the Everglades Porsche Club visiting the hospital in 75 cars. Santa and Mrs. Claus even ride along, distributing gifts to pediatric patients. 

“We have a passion for cars, as well as helping children,” Val Petracco says. 

Five years after the hospital opened, financial support ensures that programs and services keep up with the community’s needs. Support comes from bake sales, fashion shows, tennis and golf tournaments, and generous grants from area foundations.  

Donors Don and Evelyn Melchiorre have no children of their own, yet a nursing station on the seventh floor and an activity room on the sixth floor are named after them. “We look at the hospital system as a pillar of the community,” Don Melchiorre says. “It’s part of the bedrock, and we want to make sure the children who are suffering and need to be hospitalized have the best care.” 

In 2018, The Baycross Christian Family Foundation of Sarasota donated $5 million in recognition of the hospital’s regional importance. It was the largest unrestricted donation not tied to a specific project or service. The foundation’s gift empowered the hospital to advance innovative programs, technologies, and services. 

One year later, Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals created a partnership with Golisano Children’s Hospital that allows dollars raised by Children’s Miracle Network in Lee, Collier, Charlotte, Glades, and Hendry counties to stay local.  

During a hospital tour, John and Karleen Gault were inspired by the oncology floor’s “under the sea” theme and donated two pieces of artwork by marine life artist Wyland. They also funded a regular ice cream party, knowing it would brighten the day for pediatric patients. 

“Obviously, we aren’t the largest contributors in terms of dollars, but we’ve enjoyed the opportunity to do different things and will continue to do so as it relates to helping the patients,” says John Gault.  

Kids’ Minds Matter, a grassroots fundraising and advocacy group for expanding pediatric mental health services, has raised more than $10 million since 2016. This funding has created a strategic roadmap for enhancing and expanding mental health services for youth, increased the availability of behavioral health providers, created educational and resource programs, and more. 

In addition to hospital-based programs, philanthropy also has led to an expansion of services across Southwest Florida. Recently, The Wasie Foundation pledged three matching grants of $1 million each to add pediatric neurosurgical services at the hospital, create a behavioral health facility in Bonita Springs, and expand the Naples Pediatric Specialty Clinic.  

“Our hope is for improved access and care for children needing mental health services, pediatric oncology and specialty services, or pediatric neurosurgery,” says Jan Preble, vice president of programs for the Wasie Foundation. “Ultimately we want to assist Golisano Children’s Hospital in creating a better quality of life for children facing various health challenges.” 

When the hospital was built, it considered the needs of the area at the time. Now, Southwest Florida’s unprecedented growth is beginning to tax existing facilities, bringing to light the need for additional services. Community support is vital in expanding front-line programs to meet these needs, including: 

  • Pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) expansion—busy periods have meant opening as many as 25 additional beds.  

  • Education, recruitment, retention, and research—ensuring a high level of care in every area.  

  • Neurosurgery—providing immediate, local care for children with brain and spinal cord injuries.  

  • Emergency department expansion—once averaging six patients daily, it now sees as many as 138 patients in one day.  

  • Neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) expansion—the 70-bed unit admitted 82 babies at one point in 2021.  

For information about how you can help Golisano Children’s Hospital move into the future, visit


Kathy Montgomery has been writing for more than 30 years about Southwest Florida and the interesting people who live in the region.