Issue 8 Stories

Radiologist’s Generous Estate Gift Will Boost Nursing Education  at Sentara RMH

As nurses are called upon to provide increasingly complex health care for their patients, the demand also has risen for nurses to expand their skills by pursuing advanced degrees. Affording those additional years of schooling can be a challenge, however, for nurses who have families and may be saving to send their children to college.

That’s where generous donors, such as Dr. Charlie Henderson and his wife, Mary, can significantly impact the future of nursing at Sentara RMH and improve patient care in the community.

Dr. Henderson is a retired radiologist who worked at the hospital for 30 years. As part of the couple’s estate planning, the Hendersons will endow approximately $135,000 to support education for Sentara RMH nurses. The Community Foundation of Harrisonburg & Rockingham County will manage the Hendersons’ endowment and present an annual grant to the RMH Foundation, estimated to be about $5,400 each year in perpetuity (both figures are based on current market value, as of June 2018).

“Being a new nurse can be quite stressful—especially the first couple of years,” says Dr. Henderson. “They’ve been to school but haven’t had a lot of practical experience. It’s helpful when they can continue their education both on the job and through school.”

BSN in 5 Program

About 40 percent of registered nurses hired at Sentara RMH have an associate’s degree. In an effort to mirror national trends, Sentara RMH has established a “BSN in 5” program, in which all eligible nurses commit to enrolling in a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN) degree program within two years of being hired, and also commit to completing their BSN degrees within five years of starting at Sentara RMH.

“Nurses administer medications, serve as a link between physicians and patients, and provide the hands-on attention that is critical to each patient’s health—and, in some cases, survival,” says Donna Hahn, vice president of acute care services and chief nurse executive at Sentara RMH. “Put simply, excellent patient care requires excellent nurses, and education is a crucial part of developing that excellence.”

Nearly a decade ago, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Institute of Medicine released a white paper recommending that the proportion of nurses with a bachelor’s degree reach 80 percent by 2020. The paper claimed a direct relationship between advanced nursing education and improvements in patient outcomes; average length of patient hospital stays; incidence of pressure ulcers, postoperative deep vein thrombosis (clots) and pulmonary embolisms; and nursing satisfaction.

In addition, Hahn notes, as physicians treat more illnesses on an outpatient basis, those patients who are admitted to the hospital now often are sicker and require more advanced care than did many hospitalized patients in the past.

Investing in the Local Community

The estate gift from Charlie and Mary Henderson will help fund the RMH Foundation’s Institute for Nursing Excellence and Innovation, which, in part, provides scholarships to help the hospital’s nurses earn their BSN degrees.

After retiring, Dr. Henderson, an Air Force veteran, volunteered for about 15 years teaching students enrolled in the Sentara RMH School of Radiologic Technology. He has also served for various organizations and on various boards in the local community, as well as at the University of Virginia, where he earned his undergraduate and medical degrees.

The Hendersons also raised two sons in Harrisonburg.

“We’ve developed a loyalty to the hospital and are grateful for its presence in the community,” says Dr. Henderson. “That’s one of the reasons we’re making this gift.”

The Hendersons turned to The Community Foundation of Harrisonburg & Rockingham County to set up and manage the endowment, knowing their wishes for the usage of their gift would be fulfilled faithfully.

“We strive to make sure the donor’s intent is carried out during their lifetime and beyond,” says Stephanne Byrd, who helped establish The Community Foundation and served as a past chair of its board.

“In addition, in cases where endowments are established to benefit an organization or a particular initiative, and then that program or organization ceases to exist or changes its mission, the Community Foundation can help redirect those funds to a similar program that is in keeping with the donor’s original intent,” adds Byrd.

“We are so appreciative of the Hendersons’ investment in our community,” Byrd says. “Leaving legacy gifts like this one will help improve lives in our community for generations to come.”

The RMH Foundation and Nursing Education

The Community Foundation will ensure that the Hendersons’ gift, and others like theirs that are designated for the hospital, are disbursed to the RMH Foundation. The RMH Foundation then distributes funds to the various departments or service areas at Sentara RMH, including the Institute for Nursing Excellence.

The Institute provides scholarships to Sentara RMH nurses who seek to further their education by obtaining advanced nursing degrees and specialty certifications. It also provides funds to equip learning labs and clinical simulations at the hospital, as well as bedside nursing research—all of which are designed to help the hospital’s nurses excel in their chosen profession.

“When donors advance the level and quality of nursing care at Sentara RMH by giving to the Institute, they directly and tangibly improve the care each of our patients receives,” says Cory Davies, executive director of the RMH Foundation.

“Charlie and Mary’s support over the years has impacted care delivered throughout the hospital,” continues Davies. “The gift they are making through their estate planning will continue their legacy of compassionate care to this community. The RMH Foundation is grateful on behalf of the patients who will benefit for years to come.”