Sentara in the Community

Playing the Role of Lifesaver

Gift Leads to Purchase of Oxygen Sensors to Enhance Care for COVID Patients 

Chris Ellis poses a rhetorical question that could easily double as the end of a fiery locker room speech to motivate his team.

“If you don’t step up and help out during a time of a crisis,” he says earnestly, “when are you going to do it?”

Ellis, a Harrisonburg-based market president for Truist Bank (formerly BB&T), answered his own question a year ago as COVID-19 placed added stress on the entire community—most notably on frontline healthcare workers. That’s when his company’s charitable arm, the Truist Foundation, made a $10,000 gift to the RMH Foundation’s Crisis Response Fund. The contribution led to the purchase of additional oxygen sensors, allowing for better care at Sentara RMH Medical Center.

For Ellis’team at Truist, the expression of such community support builds pride in their employer. But the impact goes far beyond company walls.

“COVID has been the biggest worldwide crisis during my lifetime,” Ellis says. “We know what Sentara RMH has gone through, and supporting them and their frontline workers was important to us. Everybody has a part to play. This was just part of ours.”

Around-the-Clock Impact

The RMH Foundation, the fundraising arm of Sentara RMH, created the Crisis Response Fund in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing healthcare workers an opportunity to fill in gaps and support patients’needs.

The Truist gift came at the height of the crisis. Due to the respiratory nature of the infection, it was “clearly imperative” that patients’oxygen levels be monitored at all times, says Jenay Mason, director of Patient Care Services.

“In order to provide this crucial service, we needed to add the ability to monitor patients’oxygen levels to our existing 24-hour monitoring system, which previously only monitored heart rhythm,” she says. “This gift made it possible for us to purchase the equipment to monitor a patient’s oxygen levels at the same time.”

This technology enabled Sentara staff to be informed more quickly of significant changes in a COVID patient’s oxygen level, which would then trigger additional treatments, Mason notes.

Unbeknownst to Ellis and his Truist team when they made the gift, the parts they would play in the pandemic would be as lifesavers.

“As healthcare providers, we are thankful for the support of our community for such critical equipment,” Mason says. “As members of the community served by this hospital, we are grateful for the technology that enabled lifesaving interventions.”

Cory Davies, executive director of the RMH Foundation, calls Truist a “true community partner.”

“The generosity of the Truist Foundation toward the RMH Foundation’s Crisis Response Fund helped equip our frontline caregivers with the tools they needed to provide exceptional care,” he says. “On behalf of our staff and our patients, we are deeply grateful.”

On a Mission to Improve Quality of Life

It should come as no surprise that Sentara RMH would benefit from the Truist Foundation’s efforts, as the charitable group’s stated mission aligns perfectly with Sentara RMH ideals. On its website, Truist, which has contributed tens of millions of dollars nationwide, states: “All people and communities should have an equal opportunity to thrive. Through our partnership with innovative organizations and a focus on four key areas, the communities we serve have a chance for a better quality of life.”

The foundation has four pillars it believes every community needs: leadership development, economic mobility, thriving communities and educational equity. To Ellis, there’s a common denominator among those four pillars.

“You don’t have any of those four things without health,” he says. “Without health and the ability to move freely in society, you just don’t have those things.”

Locally, the Truist Foundation’s charitable efforts are overseen by a small committee, which approved more than $750,000 in gifts back to the Shenandoah Valley in 2020, including responding to COVID-related needs. Organizations throughout the Interstate 81/U.S. 29 corridor benefited from these gifts.

“It’s an enjoyable part of the job, to give back like that,” Ellis says. “We try to be very active in the community. Supporting Sentara RMH certainly was something that fit with our goals.”

Ellis knows personally how important a well-equipped medical facility, as well as a caring and highly-trained staff, are to a community during “ordinary” times. He’s been a patient at the Center for Orthopedics and Sports Medicine, as well as a member of the Sentara RMH Wellness Center. 

“I’ve always had good experiences with Sentara RMH,” he says.

That personal experience further underscores his appreciation for the support the Truist Foundation could provide to the Sentara RMH staff during the most extraordinary of times. 

“It’s all about playing your part,” Ellis says.

For more information on the RMH Foundation and ways you can support your local hospital, please visit 

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