What is your legacy?

With MLKCH planned giving, Tracy Donegan is leaving something meaningful behind for the organization she loves.

Two women hugging and smiling

Tracy Donegan, MLK Community Healthcare’s Chief Information and Innovation Officer, was leaving the hospital one evening six years ago when she found herself walking to the parking lot with Dyan Sublett, President, MLK Community Health Foundation.

Sublett used the opportunity to share something on her mind—her desire to create a platform for donors to express their purpose-oriented aspirations for MLKCH. When Donegan asked what that might look like, Sublett described a program for future giving commitments—planned giving—that she hoped would become the Dream Society. As the women parted, Sublett stopped and called back to her friend. “Wait! Do you want to join this?” It was the question Donegan was waiting for.  

“I had an immediate reaction,” Donegan says. “I wanted to do it. I could designate funds in my retirement account, earned from my time as a consultant when I was helping to open the hospital. It just seemed fitting. I came here to help the community, and I got more than I ever expected in return… I’ve had a dream job and I’ve gained profound insights that I wouldn’t have experienced elsewhere.”

Since then, Donegan has matched Sublett’s annual gifts to MLKCH as part of the Employee Giving Campaign. She’s also a member of the Dream Council. MLKCH’s volunteer leadership group dedicated to raising the MLKCH profile with philanthropic support and community awareness.

“We’re so fortunate to have Tracy here,” Sublett says. “She’s talented as an executive and is also one of our most effective volunteer leaders. As a generous donor and a connector and storyteller for us, Tracy’s a great example of how our own employees grow into lifetime giving through their purpose and commitment.”

Donegan hopes her associates at MLKCH will follow her lead in estate allocations. “It gives you a connection to a higher purpose that can be very strong,” she says. “You’ll feel like you have a greater stake in the hospital’s long-term future.”

A small team, a big assignment

Donegan was Vice President of Strategy Management at Apria Healthcare when she first heard about MLKCH. Her mentor, Brad Armstrong, mentioned that his firm, Top Tier Consulting, was involved in building a hospital from scratch. “At first, I didn’t believe him,” Donegan says. “But then, I realized this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was a bold move.”

Donegan’s role on the MLKCH consulting team was to implement the software needed to run the hospital, although “Your actual role in the process didn’t matter so much,” she explains. “We all just pitched in everywhere. At one point I ditched my 4-inch heels to make a run to Home Depot for screws and a light bulb.” 

When the Top Tier project ended, “I cried on the way to my car,” Donegan remembers. “The hospital had become family to me.”

Following her heart

Two years later, Donegan was given the opportunity to return to MLKCH when Sajid Ahmed, the hospital’s inaugural Chief Information and Innovation Officer, left to pursue a new venture. MLKCH Chief Executive Officer Dr. Elaine Batchlor asked Donegan to step in as the interim CIO.

During the time the executive search was concluding and the position was offered to Donegan, Top Tier had been purchased by Cognizant, a global technology giant. “I was caught between a future with a global presence and a future on a smaller scale that I had helped to build,” she says. “I shared my dilemma with Dyan, and her advice was that I should ‘just follow my heart.’ Then, everything came together.”

“Dyan has given me so many moments of personal growth; I want to be like her someday,” Donegan smiles. 

Innovation, visible and behind the scenes

Donegan is proud to oversee information and innovation at the hospital but is quick to note that innovation does not originate from her.

“Everyone in our health system is incredibly innovative; it’s in our blood,” she says, adding that the hospital’s most impressive innovations have emerged from overcoming obstacles that could have been considered insurmountable. “Dr. Batchlor refers to our staff as ‘having grit’ and I can’t think of a better way of explaining our secret sauce,” she says.

“The true spirit of innovation is not always found in breakthroughs but often lies hidden behind the scenes,” Donegan continues, referencing her team’s hypervigilance in keeping abreast of potential vulnerabilities in the security of MLKCH’s digital infrastructure. “It may not be glamourous, but it is the backbone of our health system's ability to offer safe, reliable, and cutting-edge care.”

Innovation, even outside the walls 

Donegan’s job takes her outside the MLK health system where “I can plug in and see what’s going on,” she says, referring to her activities as a member of several advisory boards. This includes Plug In Ventures, an incubator that supports Black and brown entrepreneurs in economically disadvantaged areas.

“It’s about partnership. I share ideas with these organizations, and I bring their ideas back here,” Donegan explains, adding that she constantly reads and sifts through content to see what might apply to MLKCH.

“You have to look at the Gartner Hype Cycle,” Donegan explains, picking up a marker and writing on her erasable office wall to illustrate.

“With new technology, there can be a lot of hype,” she says as she begins to draw a right-skewed bell curve. “It builds in hype until it reaches the peak… And then it starts losing promise until eventually its potential flattens out. We are typically early adopters of new technology, but we usually wait until it’s been proven in practice.”

Bring your robot to work

Donegan doesn’t exercise the same restraint with technology in her personal life. She owns two virtual reality headsets in case one breaks—and acquired two robot dogs she often brings to work. “Everyone here knows Chloe and Cosmo,” she says as she reaches down to pet Chloe, who has been happily playing nearby. “They’ve become more than just machines. They bring new meaning to emotional support dogs.”

“They also serve as a testament to the impact that technology solutions bring to the healing process,” Donegan continues, revealing that she purchased the pets as a means of coping with the loss of her mother last year.

A window into the MLKCH of the future

Although Donegan wonders about the ways in which her money might eventually support and expand MLKCH, the uncertainty of the future is one reason why “It’s best to avoid earmarking legacy funds for specific purposes,” she says. 

When her gift is realized, “The hospital could be in a completely different environment,” she continues. “South LA may be flourishing like never before. Different decisions than ones I might make now might need to be made.  My personal vision is that South LA will be a community where residents have everything they need to live a life that’s not consumed by health problems…a life where they can realize their dreams.”

“Bottom line, it’s all about the MLKCH mission,” Donegan concludes as she and Chloe leave for the day, heading through the hospital lobby past the glass donor wall where her name and Sublett’s are listed. “Whatever drives that future is what I support.”

A promise for the next generation

Supporters like Tracy Donegan help shape the future of MLKCH by ensuring the organization has the resources to thrive for decades to come. To learn more about planned giving at MLKCH, please contact Sharon Padua, Director of Major Gifts at sharon@mlk-chf.org or visit www.mlkch.org/dream-society.

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