Although neither a physician nor a professional social media influencer, Paul Riner has managed to find ways to connect the two fields to provide valuable support for healthcare services in the Harrisonburg area— all via the simple hashtag.
There’s no act too small if it means supporting your local hospital, says Riner, 39, a Rockingham County resident and board member of the RMH Foundation, the fundraising arm of Sentara RMH Medical Center. It’s with this mindset that he and the company he owns, Riner Rentals of Harrisonburg, achieved a pair of notable successes in the past year, thanks to the savvy use of social media hashtagging.
Through two community-minded social media campaigns in 2020, Riner helped raise funds for the Foundation’s Crisis Response Fund—funds that were then used to purchase critical resources to help Sentara RMH frontline healthcare workers respond more effectively to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“If I have learned anything over the last year, it’s that we are all in this together,” says Cory Davies, the Foundation’s executive director. “Generous support from Riner Rentals and others throughout the community has been vital to helping ensure that all our neighbors and friends have access to the critical, high-quality healthcare they need.”
“Throughout the pandemic, we have seen in such a stark way how heroic our frontline caregivers truly are, for the sacrifices they have made and the excellent care they have provided,” adds Davies. “But our donors are healthcare heroes, too, for the support they provide, which helps bring care to patients in need.”
Inspired to Help
Having been actively involved as an RMH Foundation Board member for about two years, Riner is dedicated to supporting the hospital’s mission. But his relationship with Sentara RMH developed long before he volunteered to serve.
While his mother, Sandy, was battling cancer, Riner witnessed firsthand the care she received through the Hahn Cancer Center, which provided outstanding treatment in a convenient, local setting.
“She was always so thankful that she didn’t have to drive to Charlottesville to get treatment,” Riner recalls. “The nurses, the pharmacists—everyone was so great. Always attentive, always involved.”
Riner’s wardrobe has grown exponentially pinker over the years, as part of his active efforts to raise awareness of breast cancer, after his mother passed away in 2014.
In 2020, as COVID-19 brought additional challenges to Sentara RMH and its frontline workforce, Riner says he and his company wanted to get involved.
“We were looking for ways to support the folks at the hospital who were on the front lines dealing with all of this,” he says. “The COVID-19 crisis brought us an opportunity to help.”
Taking place on May 5, 2020, #GivingTuesdayNow was a dedicated, worldwide social media effort to help those challenged most by the pandemic. As part of that campaign, Riner Rentals and Sentara RMH spread the word over social media in search of financial support, which led to a $5,000 matching gift from the company to the Crisis Response Fund.
A few months later, Riner was at it again with another social media fundraising drive. The #artfeltTHANKS campaign was a collaboration among Riner Rentals, the Arts Council of the Valley, and the Rockingham Fine Arts Association in which 20 artists teamed up to create a series of yard signs thanking frontline healthcare workers. The signs sold for $25 apiece, with proceeds split between the artists and the Crisis Response Fund.
“We had wondered if there was something we could do to benefit local artists who were out of work,” Riner says. “COVID has had a lot of negative impact on them—there have been no gallery openings, no shows in recent months. It was cool seeing the arts community come together for their frontline healthcare employees, and also to help artists in some small way.”
The #artfeltTHANKS campaign, which closed at the end of August 2020, raised more than $6,000 overall.
Digital Campaign, Real-World Benefits
Through funds raised from the social media campaigns, two significant purchases were made to support Sentara RMH: pulse oximeters, which are used to monitor oxygen levels in patients diagnosed with COVID-19, and thermal scanners, which enable caregivers to screen hospital visitors and others quickly and efficiently, via temperature readings, for potential signs of COVID-19 infection.
The pulse oximeters have had a major positive impact on patient care during the pandemic.
“Previously, we had the capacity to measure blood oxygen levels only in a limited number of patients—in beds equipped with pulse oximeters,” Davies says. “The new pulse oximeters, by contrast, are integrated with the hospital’s telemetry system—which enables caregivers to monitor patient vital signs remotely—greatly expanding our capacity to provide excellent care for COVID-19 patients.”
In one case, says Davies, a patient who was on supplemental oxygen kept inadvertently removing the oxygen tubes to his nose, causing his blood oxygen levels to drop—a situation that can have serious consequences for COVID-19 patients.
“With the new capability to monitor his blood oxygen in real time through telemetry, our nurses were able to intervene quickly, replace the tubes promptly and help the patient stay on a quicker path to recovery,” he notes.
Likewise, the newly purchased thermal scanners have yielded significant benefits by helping to ensure a safe environment for patients and employees through an accurate, efficient COVID-19 screening process.
“The scanners have enabled us to quickly screen employees and visitors at entrances, without requiring extra staff to take temperatures manually—and more slowly—with traditional thermometers,” he adds. “That added efficiency allowed us to deploy staff to other hospital areas where they were needed.”
Improved accuracy is another major advantage of the new thermal scanners.
“Some manual thermometers have greater variability in temperature readings, which is less than ideal,” Davies says. “These thermal scanners, on the other hand, have military-grade precision.”
By helping to keep people with possible COVID-19 infection from entering the hospital, the new scanners helped Sentara RMH reopen safely to visitors amid the pandemic.
Mission (Not Yet) Accomplished
Riner takes pride in knowing that #GivingTuesdayNow and #artfeltTHANKS produced tangible benefits for frontline workers and patients at Sentara RMH. He notes, however, that the need to support these healthcare heroes is far from over.
“They’ve been dealing with COVID-19 since early 2020, and they’ll probably be dealing with it for another 10-12 months,” he says.
That continued need makes the Crisis Response Fund a vital ongoing resource—not only for the hospital, but for the Shenandoah Valley overall.
“There’s always some way to get involved,” Riner says. “It doesn’t have to be a gigantic project. Just find something that resonates with you or something you feel you can do to make a difference.”
If you can’t afford to donate directly to support the cause, that’s OK. Sometimes helping can be as simple as sharing a hashtag on social media.
“If you have received good care at Sentara RMH, try to make a donation,” he continues. “Contact Cory and ask him how you can make a gift. But there are also ways to get involved beyond donations. Supporting our hospital should be an important cause for everyone in our area, because Sentara RMH is our local provider. We’d be a whole lot worse off if they weren’t here to help the community get through times like these.”
To donate or help support Sentara RMH in other ways, contact the RMH Foundation at 540-689-8545 or visit supportrmh.org.