April 11, 2016
Women In Business 2016

Rainmaker Tara Knapp helps fund life-changing services

PHOTO | Steve Laschever
PHOTO | Steve Laschever
Tara Knapp is Vice President of Development, PR and Marketing at Gaylord Specialty Healthcare

Vice President of Development, PR and Marketing Gaylord Specialty Healthcare

Tara Knapp is the vice president of development, PR and marketing at Gaylord Specialty Healthcare, a long-term care hospital specializing in the treatment of patients with complex medical and intensive rehabilitative issues.

Knapp joined Gaylord as the director of development in 2003. Since then, she has risen to vice president, eventually incorporating dual roles to oversee both development and public relations in 2012. Her record of success is no small feat given the lofty goals held by the hospital.

One of the first major projects Knapp handled was a multi-million dollar capital campaign to expand the hospital's footprint and medical capabilities. Knapp put a team in place and managed to exceed the original fundraising goal of $4 million, bringing in a total of $6 million. As a result, the Milne Pavilion opened in 2008, a modern, technology-enhanced wing to care for some of the sickest patients.

In 2014, Knapp developed a team to create the first annual Gaylord Gauntlet 5K obstacle run to benefit the Gaylord Sports Association for disabled athletes. Between the event's first and second years, participation increased from 400 to 600 runners and the net income nearly tripled. In January of this year, another of Knapp's projects culminated in the opening of the only Adolescent Spinal Cord Injury Rehabilitation Unit in the state, complete with kid-friendly rooms with adjoining family suites.

Perhaps closest to Knapp's heart is her team's fundraising efforts that enabled the hospital to purchase an Ekso wearable bionic suit. The $160,000 cutting-edge equipment allows individuals with lower-body weakness or paralysis to stand up and walk during therapy. Knapp set the wheels in motion by entering Gaylord in a social-media contest in which a New Haven law firm was giving $100,000 to a nonprofit organization. They won.

"It was like a rally when we won that contest," she says. "When we won, when we got it, when it arrived, every moment was electric."

Knapp says the Ekso suit has made a tangible impact for not only patients, but the staff as a whole.

"At Gaylord, we see lots of spinal-cord injuries and stroke patients; they all say the same thing, 'I just want to be able to walk again.' They want to stand up and walk for sociopsychological reasons, or just to walk their daughter down the aisle," she says. "It's not just a tool. It gives hope and possibility."

Gaylord Specialty Healthcare's Kim Thompson, who handles marketing and public relations, agrees that achievements like the Ekso suit campaign really hit home for everyone.

"Seeing patients who were immobilized be able to stand up, to look you eye to eye, it gives me chills," she says. "It's really powerful."

How is it that the efforts of one person can so strongly motivate everyone around her and effect significant change at every turn?

"Tara has a big personality, she is capable, and she brings a light-hearted attitude," says Thompson. "She is brought into some meetings you wouldn't expect her to be in, but she is there because of her ability to see the big picture, details large and small."

Thompson says Knapp's proactive managing style is something her coworkers try to emulate as well.

"If Tara doesn't know about something, she'll educate herself. She will come into a meeting with facts and figures and we'll say 'How did you know that?' and she'll say she read up on it the night before so that we could get things done faster."

Knapp says her motivation comes from both her work and her environment.

"First off, things need to get done. I have an internal engine that knows what's right, and I care that we do good work," she says. "The other side of it is that at Gaylord everyone goes above and beyond – our doctors, therapists, everyone. They will do everything to help a patient recover. I'm in a very enabling environment to be the best I can."

Knapp's coworkers know that her status as a VP doesn't keep her from working extra hours at night or on weekends if that's what it takes. For Knapp, it isn't even a factor.

"I am so grateful to be able to drive into work on a Saturday. Some of our patients can't do that; I don't take that for granted," she says. "Any one of us could have that accident, that aneurism; to have the ability and the life I have is a gift."

What are your keys to …

Maintaining business success

At Gaylord Specialty Healthcare we encourage patients to "Think Possible." It's a mantra I take to heart when opportunities fall in my lap — and fall outside of my comfort zone. The key is to say 'yes' and never turn your back on opportunity when it comes around.

Maintaining work-life balance:

Life's too short not to have fun. If all you do is go to work, come home and walk the dog, that's not a balance. I keep it in check by filling the other side of the scale with an equal amount of activities. The busier I get at work, the more involved I try to become on the outside so that the work doesn't seem so enormous.

Keeping a competitive edge:

Change is inevitable and those who embrace it, and are willing to accept some level of uncertainty, have the chance to come out ahead.

Who was an influential mentor in your professional life?

Both my mother and I were products of women's education so the message I heard both at school and at home from my parents was that I could achieve anything that I wanted. If you grow up in an environment where there are no limitations, then your only limits are what you set for yourself.

Read about the other outstanding 2016 Women in Business.

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