Since the onset of COVID-19 in our community, the Sentara RMH main entrance has been a busy place. Individuals, groups and businesses from the local area have been stopping by to bring their generous gifts—both in-kind and monetary— and to offer their moral support.
This influx of kindness in response to the pandemic began in late March, when Travis and Corri Loan, owners of Tropical Smoothie Café, made the first such in-kind donation: 650 smoothies to be delivered to hospital employees.
Fortunately, the Loans had called ahead, so when they arrived at the front door, Janet Wendelken, senior development officer of the RMH Foundation, was waiting for them with a cart. She then delivered the smoothies to the various hospital departments.
“Our team members certainly enjoyed the cold treat,” Wendelken recalls.
Since then, Sentara RMH has received so many donations that on some days, Wendelken and Cory Davies, executive director of the RMH Foundation, have a hard time keeping up with it all.
“I’ve never been so overwhelmed by people’s generosity,” Davies says. “As a fundraiser, I’m so used to having to build a case for needing support, and then reaching out and asking for people to respond to that appeal.”
But this was different.
“People just come forth and give us things,” Wendelken says.
On one notable day, Domino’s donated 2,000 slices of pizza, some of which was distributed to hospital workers via two “socially distant” lines. At one point, Wendelken says, everyone in the lines broke out singing “Amazing Grace.”
In addition to the smoothies and pizza, other food donations to Sentara RMH healthcare workers have included (but are not limited to):
500 boxed lunches donated by Richard Macher of Macado’s and picked up by representatives from Sentara off-site locations
Girl Scout cookies donated by Girl Scout Troops 368 and 89 and their buyers
Snack boxes for the night shifts of nurses on several floors, provided by a Mill Creek Church of the Brethren Sunday School class
Pizza for the entire Hahn Cancer Center staff, the Emergency Department staff and several other departments, paid for and donated by the Valley Muslim Community Foundation
In addition to the very generous amount of food that has been donated, the hospital also has received a sizable amount of personal protective equipment (PPE), including face masks, face shields, gloves and safety glasses. Face shields were a key type of PPE the hospital needed to obtain locally, due to shortages elsewhere.
“We weren’t able to purchase face shields through our normal supply chain,” Davies recalls. So a James Madison University (JMU) engineering class and several area businesses fired up their 3D printers to print them.
“When you put it all together, we ended up with more than 1,500 face shields,” Davies notes. “That happened in a matter of just 10 days, so you can imagine there were 3D printers churning around the clock and people up at all hours of the night trying to help us.”
In another local PPE-fabricating effort, several disparate groups came together to make medical-grade H-600 face masks for the hospital, using a sewing pattern developed by the University of Florida that employs sterile material already found in most hospitals. These masks are much more effective at preventing the spread of COVID-19 than homemade masks.
Kevin Phaup, JMU professor of industrial design, enlisted several of his students to fabricate the masks. The hospital also connected with a number of Mennonite sewing circles.
“Because of the technical specifications, the H-600s require a little more quality assurance than someone with at-home sewing skills might have,” Davies says. “As a result of that collaborative effort, approximately 800 of those masks were made to help protect our patients and team members.”
Other PPE gifts have been provided by these generous donors:
•Elks Lodge #450 (with Allen Baker) donated 432 pairs of safety glasses
•Harbor Freight donated supplies, gloves and masks
•Home Depot gave trash bags and safety glasses
•Silverback Distillery of Afton donated 10 gallons of hand sanitizer
Strong Shows of Support
Most touching may be the more relational types of support shown by the community, including the encouraging signs posted around the hospital, as well as the uplifting messages and social media posts intended to thank Sentara RMH staff.
Sometimes, individuals and groups have shown up at the hospital just to pray for workers and patients. Church group members also have driven to the hospital parking lot on Sundays to pray for the staff and patients from their cars.
Local first responders have formed at least two convoys at the hospital to demonstrate their support, Wendelken says. Fire, rescue and police personnel—along with the Harrisonburg mayor and other city officials—have driven around the campus ring road, stopping at various hospital entrances to applaud the workers. And some hospital staff have, in kind, gone out to hold signs thanking those in the convoys for their warm gesture.
“The gratitude goes both ways,” Wendelken says.
Wendelken has asked donors to document their gifts to keep a record of all that has been given. She hopes someday to have the opportunity to write thank-you cards to each one.
Davies has been amazed at the huge spike in monetary donations.
“We have people who have never before donated to the hospital now giving very generously,” he says. “I have never experienced such a broad outpouring of support in my 12 years at Sentara RMH, and we are very grateful to our wonderful community.”
Harman Realty Donates Sleep Inn Rooms
Another “protective” gift donated to the staff of Sentara RMH during the pandemic comes from the Harman family, which owns Harman Realty and Sleep Inn on University Boulevard in Harrisonburg. To help keep everyone safe, the Harmans have offered free hotel stays to all healthcare workers during the crisis.
“That’s been a huge help to Sentara RMH employees who can’t immediately go back home after working a shift,” Davies says.
Some of the nurses in the Emergency Department (ED) and the COVID unit have been staying at the Sleep Inn to protect their families, while others have used the hotel to shower and change clothes before going home.
A nurse who lives in West Virginia moved into the hotel so she could be closer to work.
About 40 healthcare workers—most of them Sentara RMH staff members—have been staying at the Sleep Inn, according to Randy Harman. The value of the stays provided by the Sleep Inn is an estimated $230,000. Several of these dedicated healthcare workers have lived apart from their families for up to two months.
“Working under a tremendous amount of stress and then leaving the hospital for an empty hotel room has been heartbreaking at times for these staff members,” says Kimberly Teter, BSN, RN, team coordinator in the ED. “Nevertheless, they’ve had a sense of peace, knowing they weren’t taking the chance of spreading COVID-19 to their families.”