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VCU Medical Center Auxiliary celebrates 50th anniversary

Auxiliary grants provide patients with much-needed items.

Performance of Dancing with the Richmond Stars Performance of Dancing with the Richmond Stars, a fundraising event sponsored by the VCU Medical Center Auxiliary

By Joan Tupponce

Assistant nurse manager Heather Fudala, R.N., and her team of nurses at VCU Health’s Medical Respiratory Intensive Care Unit care for some of the hospital’s sickest patients. So it was important to Fudala and her team to find a way they could add some joy and reassurance to patients and their families at such an anxious time in their lives.

Fudala requested a grant from the VCU Medical Center Auxiliary to purchase a comfort care cart her team could fill with items designed to provide comfort to patients and their families. The Auxiliary awarded the unit three grants from 2019 to 2021 to help with expenses. The funds pay for a variety of items, from ear plugs to iPhone chargers to face masks.  

“Comfort care is one of the best things we can do, and it’s made possible by the Auxiliary grants,” Fudala said.  

Dedicated to enhancing patient care

Now in its 50th year, the VCU Medical Center Auxiliary (originally the MCV Hospital Auxiliary) is dedicated to enhancing patient care. The Auxiliary is affiliated with VCU Health Volunteer Services, which coordinates volunteer activities for adults and students.

The Auxiliary is most noted for its grant program, which has provided $7,770,000 in donations since 1974. In 2019, the organization awarded 71 grants chosen from 111 applications.  

For the Medical Respiratory ICU, most of its grant has gone toward end-of-life care, such as blankets for warmth and battery-operated candles for softer lighting.

“When we get the blankets, we find out the patient’s favorite color, and sometimes we get blankets that might have some type of sport on them. We try to personalize it to the patient,” Fudala said.

Memory stones, glass medallions about the size of a silver dollar, are crafted for patients whose health is declining.

“We also make fingerprints of the patient and send them home to the family. It’s a way to do something meaningful that they can take with them,” she said. “We print out an EKG strip of the patient’s heartbeat for the family. We roll it up and put it in a little glass bottle with a cork.”

Having these items is extremely important to the patients, their families and to the nurses that care for them.

“I am so grateful to be able to provide something happy and positive on a unit where you have so much sorrow and grief,” Fedula said. “Providing something that gives normalcy to families is a blessing. … We are just so grateful for this grant.”

Humble first efforts have grown to large-scale events

Since its first meeting in October 1971, the Auxiliary has raised funds through bake sales featuring a winning combination of tasty goodies and low prices — 10 cents for a brownie and 5 cents for two cookies. Over time, the bake sales have given way to larger and more profitable ventures.

Today, funds are raised through the sale of merchandise at Three Bears Gift Shop on the first floor of Main Hospital and at River City Treasures, located street level at Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU's Children's Pavilion.

“The gift shops are our biggest source of income,” said Auxiliary board president Joyce Burgess. “The profits we receive from both of the shops are given back to VCU Medical Center in the form of grants.”

Other revenue streams include vendor sales held for hospital employees and special events, such as the Auxiliary’s Dancing with the Richmond Stars competition. To date, the Dancing with the Richmond Stars competition has raised close to $800,000 for CHoR.

“Last year was going to be our 10th year, our finale,” said committee member Susan Adolf, who won the dance competition in 2014. “We hope to hold the event next year to coordinate with the opening of CHoR's new children's tower. It will be the last hurrah, and we want to break the $1 million mark.”

The finale will be an all-star event featuring either the person who won or several of the best dancers from over the years, Adolf said. “We fill the Singleton Center every year. It’s just a wonderful experience.”

The Auxiliary sponsors a fundraising event each December called the Love Light Tree, a special way for people to honor or remember a loved one with a card. The signed cards are hung on the Christmas tree in Main Hospital.

The organization also sponsors a prom each year for children being treated for cancer or blood-borne illnesses. “It’s an event where they can come and enjoy themselves. Some of these patients won’t live long enough to go to their own prom,” said board member JoAnne Burton. “We have such a good time. It’s very heartwarming.”

Providing essentials

Another notable accomplishment is the 1984 founding of the Hospital Hospitality House. Now known as The Doorways, it provides housing, meals and other services to patients and families who need to be close to the hospital.

“We noticed people sleeping in the hallways at the hospital. Patients’ loved ones didn’t have any place to go,” said Burgess. “We were looking for a solution.”

Shoes for those with diabetes

When family nurse practitioner Kristen Barbaro saw a need in 2018 to provide customized shoes for diabetic patients, she applied for an Auxiliary grant and received $12,000 each year through 2020. This year she received a bridge grant of $2,000.

“We have a lot of patients with difficult infections in their feet that come from diabetes or a wound opening up,” said Barbaro, who works in the Department of Orthopedic Surgery. “We have a large amount of uninsured patients, and Medicaid doesn’t cover the price of the shoes. We wanted to provide something that would prevent a reoccurrence for patients whose feet had healed.”

“If we can heal the wound and the patient is coming to appointments and doesn’t have a payor source for shoes, the grant will pay for the shoes,” Barbaro said. “We partnered with Virginia Orthotics to make the shoes, and they are an unbelievable partner.”

The program has given out about 20 pairs of shoes per year in addition to diabetic socks and some temporary shoes for patients to wear while healing.

“Without the Auxiliary grant, we would see reoccurrences of these wounds. When you have reoccurrences, it increases your risk for a below-the-knee amputation by 30%,” Barbaro said. “We have been able to heal people appropriately and prevent recurrences.”

Patients are very thankful and grateful for the shoes, she said. “This Auxiliary grant has been so important to us." 

You can help patients by volunteering

The VCU Medical Center Auxiliary is affiliated with the medical center’s Volunteer Services. If you are interested in joining our team of volunteers, please visit our Adult Volunteer Program, our College Student Volunteer Program or our Junior Volunteer Program for high school students.

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