November 26, 2014

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

We have so much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving season—our families, our friends, and the wonderful community in which we live.

I was reminded of how much we can learn from each other recently, when I was invited to become “Principal for the Day” at Seagate Elementary (SGE). About 50 other community leaders also were invited to visit our public schools to share and learn.

SGE’s wonderful Principal Bev Budzynski—“Ms. B”—greeted me to begin my experience. When Ms. B walked through the school, I was impressed with how many of the 800 students she knew by name. Equally impressive were the hugs she received from her young charges. (I also know many of my colleagues, but I don’t get many hugs!)

Even though SGE is excellent academically, ranking 14th in the state, there are many unexpected challenges which this school shares with our entire Collier County Public School System’s almost 50,000 students. More than 50% of Collier County students go home to non-English speaking homes, and more than 70% receive free or reduced-cost breakfast and lunch. Ms. B’s school also has a number of children with special needs, all of whom she greeted when we joined them for lunch. By the way, lunch was fine and fairly healthy, as I had sliced apples and string beans with my two slider-cheeseburgers and a carton of milk.

I also met fifth graders who were designing a “bird” in science class. These creative children were using technology as they custom-designed their new avian friend. They told me that before getting into bed each night, they texted each other to plan for the next day’s academic affairs. These digital natives will change our world. Kindergarten students don’t even know what a computer mouse is, as they were raised on a touch screen!

I was struck by the similarities between the educational system and the healthcare system—not only our increasing use of technology but other things as well. Both educators and healthcare workers share a noble professionalism that places the student or patient at the center of the enterprise. This is often no easy task. Both professions are hampered by limited resources, personnel issues and motivations, third party regulators, well meaning but inexperienced supervisors, resistance to change, overwhelming needs, and lack of focus. While our respective vocabularies might differ, everything else is similar—the issues, needs, goals, metrics, behaviors, leadership, management, and organizational structures. The same can also be said for other major organizations in southwest Florida—City, County, and Sheriff’s Department to name a few.

NCH has been embedded in our public school system for years. Our colleagues have been school nurses since the late 1990s. At SGE, NCH nurse Amy Kemen manages an elementary school-friendly clinic, where she cares for asthmatics, diabetics, and whoever needs some extra care. And Ms. B, who is training for a marathon, is a great supporter of our Blue Zones Project. Having the Collier County School System at the epicenter of change for the good is just another wonderful example of how well our community collaborates for everyone’s benefit.

Working together—healthcare professionals, academic professionals and all the others who make up this great community—we have so much to be thankful for. May I wish you and yours the happiest of Thanksgivings.


Allen S. Weiss, M.D., President and CEO

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