In April 2016, OHSU announced that Gary and Christine Rood, of Vancouver, Wash., had gifted $12 million for the OHSU guest house project.
Funded entirely by private philanthropy, the new five-story guest house will provide a supportive and comfortable home base for out-of-town patients receiving specialized care at OHSU. The facility will be named the Gary & Christine Rood Family Pavilion in their honor.
Gary and Christine are no strangers to the world of healthcare. Christine was an HR director at a hospital before going into business with her husband. While attending college, Gary landed an internship at UCLA Medical Center during his senior year. He rotated through all the various departments, from the morgue to the operating room. “At the end of it all,” Gary says, “I loved it. I loved what we were accomplishing. I loved the people.”
That same sentiment led Gary to graduate business school at the University of Iowa and then back to Portland, Ore., as a hospital administrator at OHSU. “I loved the environment of a teaching hospital,” Gary says of OHSU. “It intrigued me. The more complicated, the better. I loved the challenge of it. It’s truly a city by itself.”
Gary’s career in hospital administration continued in The Dalles, where he served as president of Mid-Columbia Medical Center, until he and Christine decided to “strike out on their own” and start their own business. They started leasing nursing homes, assisted living residences and memory care facilities for seniors.
It was also in The Dalles where Gary and Christine began investing in philanthropy. They started a scholarship in memory of Gary’s son, who died from cancer at the age of 23. To this day, the Roods maintain an active role with the scholarship program. They interview the young adults who apply, and they connect with recipients after their scholarships have been put to use.
Long-term relationships are an important aspect of their giving. As Gary puts it, “I don’t like to write a check and forget about it.”
The Roods now live in Vancouver, Wash., and manage Rood Investments. Their giving has increased over the years. They support the Boys and Girls Club in Vancouver and the Unity Center for Behavioral Health. Gary and Christine gave $1 million to the OHSU Knight Cancer Challenge to establish an endowed professorship for cancer research. And now, thanks to their $12 million gift, OHSU is more than halfway toward its fundraising goal to build the guest house.
More than bricks and mortar
Gary and Christine both felt very strongly about supporting the OHSU guest house project — and that decision was informed by personal experience. As a hospital administrator, Gary had witnessed the need for guest housing on a daily basis.
Christine relates more to the rural families who will benefit from the guest house. Having been born in eastern Oregon, Christine understands the stress involved with navigating urban areas: “I know what it’s like to drive five hours to get to a hospital,” she says. “And how intimidating it is — not just the drive, but the traffic and trying to get around, trying to find your place. Amongst everything else you’re going through [in a medical crisis], it’s a lot to come into a big urban area from a small town.”
The guest house seeks to address and ameliorate these very real stressors. Communal kitchens and individual kitchenettes will allow families to make their own meals in one place. Laundry facilities will be present in the building, and the tram to the hospital will be a mere block away so families don’t have to navigate city traffic on their way to appointments or surgery.
“This is more than a building,” Christine says. “It’s about people and reducing stress.”
Gary agrees. “The end result is not the bricks and mortar. It’s the people we can help.”
A place with momentum
Gary found inspiration in Phil and Penny Knight’s matching gift of $500 million for the Knight Cancer Challenge. He says, “Phil Knight is worth billions of dollars. He could have written a check for the Knight Cancer Institute, and nobody would have been able to participate. The way he did it—inviting everyone and anyone to give to this issue—just hit me between the eyes. How smart he was. I’m not a Phil Knight, but our gift [for the guest house] might encourage others to give.”
Gary is quick to mention that he and Christine have been involved with a lot of hospitals, health care institutions and organizations. And they note that OHSU stands out.
“The quality of the people at OHSU blows me away,” Gary says. “You want to donate to a winner. You have faith that what you’ve worked hard to give away, they’ll work equally hard to have an effect and follow through.”
Christine adds, “There’s so much momentum at OHSU right now. The way the Knight Cancer Challenge was structured, involving so many people, it rallied so much support and so much belief. People see the potential. That momentum is like wildfire.”
Since the announcement of the Rood’s gift, hundreds of people have voiced their gratitude. Stories continue to be shared, serving as daily reminders of the importance of building a supportive, comfortable place for patients to stay while away from home.
“I feel blessed to be able to do this while I’m alive,” Gary says. “I had heard the saying ‘it’s better to give than to receive,’ and it’s been emotional to see the response. All these people coming forward to say thank you. I didn’t anticipate that. It’s very emotional.”
For Christine, the experience is somewhat surreal. “I never would have dreamed, 30 years ago, that we would have the ability to do this. Where we were and where we are now. Giving begets giving, personally. It’s really touched our lives.”