FULLY ENGAGED: Care New England Executive Vice President Constance Howes not only has improved the operations and standing of Women & Infants Hospital, she is actively engaged in helping the region’s economy grow.
When it comes to citizenship, Constance Howes’ philosophy is simple: Follow in her mother’s footsteps. Howes has spent three decades focused on the health of women and their newborns.
“My mother was very active in the community, volunteering at the YMCA, the church and a club that raised money for scholarships for low-income women,” said Howes, executive vice president of women’s health at Care New England. “She was a real-life demonstration of giving back to the community.”
Take one look at Howes’ resume and it is clear that she certainly did follow in her mother’s path – and then some. Howes has been involved with Women & Infants Hospital for 30 years, first serving as a trustee, then joining as legal counsel, and then taking on various administrative roles. She recently stepped down as president and CEO of the hospital – a title she held since 2002 – to take on her current systemwide position. She also sits on the boards of several health care, education and economic-development organizations throughout the state.
And while Howes’ interest in the community is broad, when you talk about her corporate citizenship, it starts with her work at Women & Infants.
“I’ve been so blessed in this role,” said Howes. “The mission we have to serve women and their families is just wonderful.”
During her tenure as president, the hospital’s research funding grew from $4 million in 2002 to $17 million in 2012. The hospital added a new neonatal-care unit, which is earning national and even international recognition. U.S. News and World Report named the health facility as a “Top Hospital” for gynecology, newborn pediatrics and overall excellence, while Fit Pregnancy, a national magazine, named Women & Infants as a “Top Hospital to Have a Baby.”
“Our vision was to be the recognized leader in health care for women and infants,” said Howes. “To do that, we knew we needed to have academic pre-eminence, operational excellence and enough money to fund those dreams.”
Raising those funds is one area where Howes really rolled up her sleeves. Creation of the hospital’s South Pavilion, which houses the new Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, began with a massive fundraising initiative, called the ONWARD campaign. “We set an initial working target to raise $16 million from the community to construct the Carter Family Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, as well as a new, high-risk obstetrics unit,” said Karen Davie, Women & Infant’s senior vice president of philanthropy and government. “Through the dedication of Connie and countless others, that campaign not only reached its target, but exceeded it, generating $23 million.”
Howes and her team spent countless hours meeting with existing donors, new people, foundations and corporations to spread the word about Women & Infants Hospital’s ambitions and the benefits the hospital could provide for Rhode Island’s citizens. They secured challenge grants from local and national philanthropic partners, which eventually inspired individuals and corporations from across Rhode Island to donate. According to Davie, the hospital received the most five-, six-, and seven-figure donations in its history, thanks to the ONWARD campaign.
“The fundraising wasn’t delegated to volunteers and others,” said Laurie White, president of the Greater Providence Chamber of Commerce, who Howes works with closely as chairwoman of the group’s Innovation Providence Implementation Council. “Connie was personally participatory, because this cause was very near and dear to her heart.”
Howes herself points to the $78 million South Pavilion and Neonatal Intensive Care Unit as one of the projects she’s most proud of – though she emphasized that its creation was truly a team effort. “Every day I look out my window and see people leaving with new babies who are going to have a strong future because of the care they got here,” she said.
As any of her colleagues are quick to tell you, Howes’ achievements at Women & Infants Hospital are impressive. But her commitment to corporate citizenship extends far beyond the hospital’s walls. She’s made a conscious effort to immerse herself in other Rhode Island nonprofits and organizations.
“I realized that Women & Infants could not be successful unless this community had a vibrant economic base,” said Howes. “Rhode Island had a lot of difficulty with the recession, and we had a lot of businesses based in the state that are now regionalized or nationalized. We needed to put some real effort into economic development.”
To that end, Howes sits on the board of several civic and industry groups – most notably, the Governor’s Workforce Board and the Chamber’s council.
As chairwoman of the Governor’s Workforce Board – a role she’s held for about two years – Howes helps develop projects that reduce unemployment and provide job training to Rhode Island adults and youths. The board is currently pursuing innovation grants to help educational organizations and local businesses collaborate on job-training programs.
“Under Connie’s leadership, the Governor’s Workforce Board has increased its visibility and credibility with the business community,” said Rick Brooks, executive director of the Governor’s Workforce Board. “We have seen many new businesses come to the board to partner in training opportunities and provide input on what their training needs are.”
Howes is now taking her community involvement to a national level. For the past several years, she has been associated with the American Hospital Association, a national policy and advocacy organization representing hospitals and the communities they serve. Howes was a member of the New England regional board and participated in the Maternal Child Health Governing Council. Recently, though, Howes agreed to take on a much more comprehensive role. She was elected to the national association’s board of trustees, and will hold one of only 27 coveted seats as of Jan. 1, 2014.
Howes’ staff does not seem surprised that she would receive this kind of national recognition for her work. “Connie has really devoted herself to being involved with a broad cross section of organizations,” said Davie. “In addition to leading this hospital, she’s also devoted her own personal time to ensuring that all aspects of the human condition are improved.”