Boca Raton Regional Hospital is closing in on its ambitious expansion
Mark Larkin has a story to tell. And it’s one that has been told over and over again since 1962, when two children—Debra Ann Drummond, 9, and her brother James Randall Drummond, 3—died when an 11-year-old neighbor poisoned their milk. A 2012 Palm Beach Post account continued:
“It was 1962 and Boca Raton had only about 10,000 residents. The nearest hospital was Bethesda Memorial, 15 miles away in Boynton Beach. The children’s parents—their father was developer Robert Drummond—said having a hospital closer probably wouldn’t have made a difference, but the deaths spotlighted the need for one in Boca Raton. … The town rallied—a history of the hospital says one of every three city residents donated—and within five years, on July 17, 1967, Boca Raton Community Hospital opened its doors. Fiercely possessive residents call it ‘the miracle on Meadows Road.’”
Larkin, president of the Boca Raton Regional Hospital Foundation, says it’s a “remarkable story” and is counting on the town to rally again as the hospital is entering the home stretch of its capital campaign officially launched in 2019 to raise $250 million for a significant expansion; money raised to date is $195 million.
Larkin says the merger with Baptist only accelerated the campaign, which is designed to bring the hospital into modern standards for patient care.
“Two things were really motivating us [to launch the campaign]. Boca Raton as a community is growing dramatically; second, our hospital has not fundamentally changed its physical surroundings since the ‘70s. There were additions in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but the core hospital itself was built as a four-story building in ‘67, grew to a nine-story building in the ‘70s, and then it’s pretty much stayed the same.”
He points out the patient care since those days has changed dramatically, as hospitals once organized in wards of six or eight people have moved now to private rooms, which he describes as a more “humane” option for people in terms of privacy and family interactions.
“There is actually data out that shows in private rooms there is a shorter length of stay, fewer medical errors and there is more interaction from the family which supports the patient, which they are speculating really helps you recover faster,” he says.
Surgery suites will also be upgraded to reflect technological advances. Equipment has gotten larger and requires more personnel. There are two or three doctors and nurses at most in what are now 325-square-foot operating rooms with “modest equipment.” The new ORs will more than double that size, with higher ceilings that connect equipment to boom technology, rather than consuming valuable floor space. Larkin says the expansion will also allow a larger number of patients and visitors as well as clinical follow-up spaces, and says the hospital’s official role now as a teaching hospital for FAU’s Charles E. Schmidt College of Medicine also requires more room.
And so far, so good when it comes to the fundraising; Larkin expects to hit the $200 million mark by the end of May, and to reach the entire goal by end of season 2022. An added sweetener this year is the “Bob Sheetz challenge.” Sheetz, a Boca resident and retired convenience store magnate, usually donates a hefty amount to the annual hospital ball to cover its first-rate entertainment (last year it was Rod Stewart). In lieu of this year’s ball cancellation, Sheetz is offering to match, dollar for dollar, any donations raised—up to $1 million—by June.
Larkin says that’s Boca—a city known for its philanthropy and, in this case, its love of the miracle it built so many years ago.
“It’s been extraordinary,” he says. “People are really stepping forward and doing and supporting us in a big, big way. I am optimistic.”