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VIProfile: Matt Schaefer

By Gay Lyons

Matt Schaefer said he started the path that led him to accept his position as President and CEO of East Tennessee Children’s Hospital this past August when he majored in bioengineering and biomedical engineering at Texas A&M University.

Schaefer thought he might go to medical school. A family tragedy led him to pediatric healthcare.

“In June 2007, my nephew, Malachi, 14 months old, was diagnosed with a severe case of leukemia,” he said. “In the fi ve months before he passed away, I saw a lot and decided I wanted to be in pediatric healthcare. It was divine providence.”

“I saw people at Texas Children’s Hospital react with Malachi, not just his parents,” he continued. “I got to see what children are like in their worst moments. They’re so much tougher than we are. They are so resilient. I got to see what pediatric organizations can do. I saw the heart for service. My brother and sister-in-law still give back to Children’s.”

After receiving his MBA from Rice University in 2007, Schaefer was an Associate at McKinsey and Company providing general management consulting services to Fortune 100 clients.

In December 2008, Schaefer was hired to help plan and execute the opening of Texas Children’s first inpatient facility located in a community setting, Texas Children’s Hospital’s West Campus, a 500,000-square-foot freestanding inpatient and outpatient facility located 30 miles away from the fl agship campus in Texas Medical Center.

In eight years Schaefer moved from his initial position as Director, Strategic & Financial Analysis, West Campus to President at Texas Children’s West Campus.

“My Texas Children’s career allowed me to move into diff erent roles,” said Schaefer. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for cutting my teeth at Texas Children’s.”

In 2017 Schaefer accepted the position of Senior Vice President and Chief Operating Offi cer at Children’s Hospital New Orleans, a very diff erent place than
Texas Children’s.

“Texas Children’s is one of the preeminent children’s hospitals in the nation,” he said. “The scale is amazing. It’s the largest pediatric program in the country. In New Orleans, I expanded my view about the role of pediatric care in addressing the needs of rural areas. It was important to find different ways to reach patients to provide care outside of urban areas and to address economic disparities.”

In taking the job as President and CEO at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital, Schaefer said he asked himself, “‘How do I take the experience in New Orleans and address the underserved needs? How do we continue to be who we are? When a child is vulnerable in any part of the region, how are we fulfilling our mission?’ We want to be the destination for great pediatric care.”

During the pandemic Schaefer’s message to families is to “make sure children get wellness care, vaccinations, medication management. We’re not just making sick children well; we want to make sure healthy children stay well. Don’t put off care. Our hospital is as safe or safer than anywhere in the community.”

Schafer was accompanied to Knoxville by his wife Kristin, whom he met while both were students at Texas A&M, and their children, Allison, 13, and Sarah, 11.

“It’s amazing here,” said Schaefer. “For a guy from the fourth largest city in the nation, it’s great to be in a big small town. People have been so friendly. One of the biggest questions for me was ‘Is this a place where my family can thrive?’ They like it here. In the last couple of weeks Kristin has gone through all the requirements to be a substitute teacher.”

Schaefer mentioned covid’s impact on Fantasy of Trees, which has gone virtual this year. “We rely on the support of the community. It’s critical for us to complete our mission. We ask how we can do Fantasy in a way that honors the tradition. It’s a significant portion of our fundraising. It raised almost half a million dollars last year.”

“Children’s is a jewel of East Tennessee,” he continued. “It has to be cared for and shined. We need the community to help us continue to be that jewel.”

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