Philanthropists Leon and Toby Cooperman announced Thursday morning that the Cooperman Family Foundation is making a historic $100 million donation to Saint Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston.
In honor of the family’s gift, the largest ever given to a hospital in New Jersey, RWJBarnabas Health will rename the facility Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center.
The Coopermans, who live and have raised their family in Essex County, have an extensive history of philanthropy in a number of areas, but to this Barnabas facility in particular. The couple has donated more than 100 times to the medical center previously, including a $25 million gift in 2014 that provided the catalyst for a vast expansion of the hospital.
Leon Cooperman, 78, a longtime Wall Street financier who serves as the chairman and CEO of Omega Advisors, a New York-based investment advisory firm, said giving back to the community in which he lives always has been a top priority.
In 2010, the Coopermans took the Giving Pledge, a philanthropic initiative started by Warren Buffett and Bill and Melinda Gates that encourages the world’s wealthiest individuals and families to donate a majority of their wealth to philanthropic causes. This gift, he said, is a continuation of that effort.
Keeping care in N.J.
Leon Cooperman said part of the motivation for making a $100 million gift to the now-renamed Cooperman Barnabas Medical Center was an effort to support and elevate health care in the state.
“I’m very friendly with another philanthropist who I think is a fabulous human being, Ken Langone,” he said. “He gave a very large leadership gift to NYU. And, in the last five years, it’s helped them make a major transition in the hospital.
“We don’t want to have to cross the Hudson River to get good medical care, we want to get it in New Jersey. And we hope that we’re helping St. Barnabas to deliver that medical care.”
“Our basic philosophy is giving back,” he told ROI-NJ. “My family discussed it as a unit, and we felt that that is the best thing to do with our money.
“Saint Barnabas is a fabulous institution, serves about 400,000 patients every year. Everyone deserves quality health care. And we’re just very fortunate to be in a position to help out.”
Cooperman said the family knows the value of the hospital firsthand.
“Every member of my immediate family has had surgeries at Saint Barnabas,” he said. “We’ve all gotten very good service and excellent care. We want to make sure that excellent care is available to others.”
This gift is not connected to a particular project, but RWJBarnabas Health CEO Barry Ostrowsky told ROI-NJ the donation will have both immediate and long-lasting impact.
“Like all businesses, we have a strategic plan,” he said. “Ours includes new facilities, the recruitment of new clinicians, the expansion of academic teaching, the expansion of social programs — all the things we need to do to pursue our mission.
“When you infuse $100 million into executing that plan, you get to accelerate all of that. And you get to ensure that it’s not just some vision in a loose-leaf binder somewhere, that it’s really an operating model that will ultimately get you the success on the mission.”
The gift to Saint Barnabas is the family’s largest donation to any institution. Cooperman said showing continued support to the health care industry during a pandemic was important.
The Cooperman Family Fund has given millions to numerous organizations around the country and around the world. Leon Cooperman said he is most proud of the Cooperman College Scholars, a fund he set up with $50 million that has helped send more than 1,000 kids to college.
Cooperman, the first member of his family to go to college, said he understands the importance.
“A college-educated kid in a lifetime earns well over $1 million more than a non-college-educated kid,” he said. “Going to college gives them tools to be more competitive in the world.
“This is the biggest thing we’ve done — not dollar-wise, but in terms of satisfaction.”
“The pandemic has shown us that heroes are working in our hospitals every day, and I’m honored to help support their work,” he said.
The family’s $25 million gift in 2014 helped St. Barnabas build a $200 million, five-story, 241,000-square-foot medical building with 114 private rooms and a state-of-the-art neonatal intensive care unit. The building, which opened in 2017, was named the Cooperman Family Pavilion in the family’s honor.
Ostrowsky said the $100 million gift obviously was extraordinary — and that he was personally moved that the Coopermans have decided to once again support the mission of the hospital and the health system.
“I obviously love the quantity of the gift — $100 million is unbelievable — but I truly appreciate the fact that he thinks enough of us and the mission and the commitment we have to the communities to use us as that vehicle for his interest in making a community better,” he said. “That is really gratifying.
“The numbers on the check are just too much to really contemplate. But the fact that he is a believer in what we do, you can’t put a price tag on that.”
Though Cooperman is among the most successful financiers on Wall Street, he comes from humble roots.
He was raised in the South Bronx, New York, by Jewish immigrants who fled from Poland to escape the Holocaust. His father was a plumber. Cooperman attended the New York City public school system and became the first in his family to attend college, enrolling at Hunter College (then called Lehman) of the City University of New York with the intention of becoming a dentist. He met his wife in French class at the college and they married the same year they graduated, in 1964.
Read more from ROI-NJ:
- Ostrowsky is beyond grateful for $100M gift — and hopeful it will shine spotlight on health care sector for other philanthropists
- Cooperman on philanthropy — and the 4 things the wealthy can do with money
After his first job at Xerox, Cooperman earned his MBA from Columbia University. He then spent 25 years at Goldman Sachs, rising to general partner and chairman and CEO of Goldman Sachs Asset Management. He retired in 1991 and started Omega Advisors, a New York-based hedge fund that amassed nearly $10 billion in assets.
Toby Cooperman has spent her life advocating on behalf of people with developmental disabilities. She retired from a career as a special education specialist at the Early Childhood Learning Center in Chatham.
Her leadership in community organizations is wide-reaching. She has served as a board member of the JCC Metrowest for more than 30 years and as an officer and board member of Jewish Services for the Developmentally Disabled and Jespy House. In addition, she has served as a board member of the Jewish Community Foundation of MetroWest, the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, the former Theresa Grotta Rehabilitation Center and numerous other organizations.
Leon Cooperman said he hopes the donation will spur others to do the same.
“Hospitals like this one need and deserve the support of private citizens to ensure patients have access to excellent health care and the latest advancements in medical technology,” he said. “I encourage others to follow my lead if they are able to do so.”