'You can’t build a world-class facility without realizing you have to include a space for abused children.'

Just days before Lisa Rice planned to meet with Dr. Scott Russell about her family’s $1 million gift to the new MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital, she found herself standing across from him in the pediatric emergency room -- not as a donor, but as the grandmother of a patient.

Her 16-month-old grandson, Beckett, had fallen from the sofa. After a nervous night of close monitoring, everyone went home with medical reassurance that he was fine, and Rice found her family looking at the MUSC Children’s Hospital from a new vantage point.

“Children’s causes have always been our thing,” she said. “We know that we need a world-class facility, and we know what they need to build this new hospital – so we decided to give to that. Being there with Beckett brought it all home.”

Left to right: Country music star Darius Rucker joins Tucker Ervin, Ann E. Rice Ervin, Lisa Rice, Joe Rice, Beth Rucker and MUSC President Dr. David Cole for a check presentation at the MUSC Children's Hospital Child Life Atrium.    

Rice and her husband, Joe – cofounder of Motley Rice law firm, nationally recognized for its work in asbestos, the National Tobacco Settlement and Sept. 11 litigation -- became advocates for abused children in the most happenstance way. Decades ago some neighbors asked the couple to support a golf tournament and check out the Dee Norton Lowcountry Children’s Center benefitting from the event.

“This was the ‘90s, and people just weren’t talking about this issue,” Lisa said. “There was this mentality that it wasn’t going to happen to me. It wasn’t going to happen to my family. Those children didn’t have the advocates that sick children did.”

After one meeting, Lisa jumped in. She served on the children’s center board for four years and later started the annual women’s tea party that grew into a key fundraiser for the organization.

When she and Joe joined the MUSC Children’s Hospital board, they saw an opportunity to further that mission. The Rices, along with their daughter and son-in-law, Ann E. Rice Ervin and Tucker Ervin, recently donated $1 million to support a special room for abused patients at the new MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital, set to open in 2019.

“Our community deserves a world-class facility, so we decided to get behind the hospital,” Joe said. “You can’t build a world-class facility without realizing you have to include a space for abused children.”

A longtime supporter of both the children’s hospital and Hollings Cancer Center, Joe said he hopes that space will provide the most comfort at the worst moments.

“Children are the most defenseless members of our society,” he said. “It has been my life’s mission to advocate for those who can’t advocate for themselves, whether it’s in the courtroom or the community.”

Before choosing how to direct the family’s gift, Lisa met with Dr. Russell, pediatric emergency medicine division director -- whom she had met on the hospital floor with her grandson -- and John Melville, director of child abuse pediatrics. Melville explained that most abused children resume healthy, normal lives with proper treatment – but getting them care as fast as possible is crucial to healing.

“By the time a kid shows up in my clinic, the best thing that can happen to an abused kid has happened,” Melville said. “Because I’m with you. I’m going to protect you, and I’m going to get you help. I know what to do. Being abused is not a life sentence.”

Russell showed Lisa floor plans for the new hospital, which would provide privacy at check-in and then a direct path to a larger patient room with its own restroom. Under the current configuration, abuse victims often wind up crossing eight halls and going up three floors before reaching the care they need.

“This new hospital will mean a lot more privacy and getting to places where they can heal faster,” Russell said. “We take care of 50 percent of abused children in the state and can get right to providing them with care.”

Not only will the MUSC Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital offer more space and privacy, it will limit exposure. In other words, a patient with an ear infection won’t see an abuse victim coming in, and an abuse victim never will sit in the waiting room beside a child stricken with the flu.

“One of the things I learned from families we’ve talked with is that it’s not so much how the building looks; they want to see a nurse fast and get back to a room fast,” Russell said. “This hospital can’t come a day too soon. We’ll have a building that represents the quality of work we do.”

That work has been a personal cause to the Rices for decades. But they received a firsthand glimpse into the limitations of the current hospital when Beckett needed medical attention.

“We felt that Beckett received the best care, and we were as comfortable as we could be, under the circumstances,” Lisa said. “But we also recognize the need for a modern building with more space -- and some special spaces, like this room. It’ll be exciting to see what those doctors achieve when they have exactly what they need.”