As a patient advocate at Sentara RMH Medical Center, Lorrie Koontz knows the value of helping her patients keep from thinking too much about what ails them. During the recent height of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, options for such diversions were limited. Due to the implementation of new policies restricting visitation, Koontz recognized that some major pieces were missing from the routines that normally help patients get through recovery—especially for the elderly.
“When families aren’t able to visit with patients, it can be scary and lonely for the patient,” she says. “Part of the recovery and healing process is mental and psychological. Time drags. The troubling thoughts of hospitalization can consume the mind. The encouragers are missing. The listeners. These people are important.”
The last few months have been a crisis in so many ways. Yet through the thick of trying times at the hospital, the RMH Foundation and surrounding community have answered the call.
As a direct response to the challenges presented by the pandemic, the RMH Foundation created a new crisis response fund, giving employees like Koontz an opportunity to fill in gaps and help meet patients’ needs, according to Cory Davies, executive director.
“Caregivers on the front lines were coming to the RMH Foundation with innovative ways to help better serve our patients, and we needed resources to put those ideas into motion,” he explains. “As donors in the community started reaching out to us to ask how they could help, we created the crisis response fund to enable them to make a meaningful impact in our community’s response to the coronavirus. The crisis fund is an easy way for donors to make a significant difference in our patients’ lives.”
Making a Connection
By the end of May, the new fund was already supporting several projects, including the purchase of 38 Samsung tablets for inpatient nursing units, the palliative care team, the chaplains and the patient experience team, on which Koontz serves.
“Many patients—especially those who are elderly—have been very isolated during the pandemic, and particularly during those weeks when we weren’t able to allow visitors into the hospital,” Davies says. “These same patients don’t have access to technology that would enable them to connect virtually with loved ones.”
Koontz says the tablets have made an immediate difference for patients, as she and other teammates have been able to connect family members who otherwise would not have had the opportunity.
“COVID-19 has created an environment in which we have had to sacrifice personal connection to family, friends and religious leaders in the interest of safety. It’s unprecedented and heartbreaking,” she notes. “It’s amazing how much nonverbal information we pick up on when we’re able to connect visually with another person, and what a difference that makes in the well-being of patients. By helping patients stay connected to their families, you can practically see the positive effects it has on their health and outlook.”
The most heartwarming story, Koontz says, involved a husband and wife of 44 years who had been struggling emotionally while the wife was hospitalized for more than a week. Koontz suggested using a tablet to connect them, but the husband didn’t have a smartphone and was unable to take part in a video chat.
Natalie Rinaca, Koontz’s patient advocate teammate, stepped in to be by the wife’s side while Koontz drove to Timberville to meet the husband. Taking necessary safety precautions, she handed the husband a smartphone to connect to his wife.
“They were so happy! I can’t even put it into words!” Koontz says. “They flirted. They canoodled. They connected. They were both better. They were comforted. There were happy tears and relief.”
A Fund for the Future
Among other projects, Davies says the fund also helped establish a new collaboration with James Madison University and other community members that focuses on hand-sewing surgical-grade face masks. He says the partners are using an innovative process developed out of the University of Florida, in which sterile material—which Sentara RMH already had on hand—is repurposed to make masks.
Donations to the crisis response fund can help offset the cost of the other materials needed to fabricate this critical equipment, Davies says.
“As our community faces this extraordinary health challenge, our courageous Sentara RMH caregivers go in every day to be there for us and for the people we care about,” he adds. “The RMH Foundation has set up this special fund to provide the unexpected extras our caregivers and patients need right now.”
It’s important to note that efforts will continue to raise money proactively for the crisis response fund. Davies says the Foundation is mindful that not all the potential uses of these funds have been identified, and COVID-19 is not the only crisis for which the hospital needs to prepare.
At least in terms of the crisis for which it was created, the fund is opening doors for patients, in times when it can feel as if there’s little chance for connection.
“Donating to the crisis response fund helps us ensure that patient families, far and wide, can be connected virtually with the patients they love,” Koontz says. “To lift their spirits and help them heal.”
To contribute to the crisis response fund, please visit www.SupportRMH.org.
Donated Masks, Gowns Benefit Community’s Response
The RMH Foundation relies on the generosity of the community to support the mission of Sentara RMH Medical Center.
The favor is also returned.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Foundation Executive Director Cory Davies, the RMH Foundation stepped up to provide 400 N95 masks and 200 procedural masks to the Harrisonburg Rescue Squad, an all-volunteer organization serving the city. The Foundation also donated 50 disposable gowns to Sunnyside Communities, a group of three retirement communities, including one near Sentara RMH in Rockingham County.
“Anytime you are dealing with isolation situations, having disposable gowns and other personal protective equipment on hand is essential,” says Karen Wigginton, chief marketing officer at Sunnyside Communities. “The RMH Foundation assisted us in ensuring that we had a continuing supply of high-quality disposable gowns. We are grateful to have such a great community partnership.”
The items for the rescue squad and retirement community came from donations made directly to the hospital. To learn more about how you can contribute, contact the RMH Foundation at 540-689-8545.