When Debbie Heiser visited Sandpoint several years ago from her home in Kansas City, she had an unexpected medical emergency. She was taken to Bonner General Health, which at the time operated under the name Bonner General Hospital, and experienced not only compassionate and caring staff, but also superior medical care she never expected for a town this size. Now, several years later, Heiser has made Sandpoint her home and sits on the Bonner General Health Foundation Board of Directors, a position she enthusiastically embraced due to her prior experience with the nonprofit hospital.
“I was amazed at the resources and the caliber of the people for a town of this size. There is a reason people live in Sandpoint,” said Heiser of the beauty of the area that draws people to the community. “It brings a higher caliber of professionals here.”
She is not alone in her passion or motivation to be involved. Bonner General Health Foundation Board President Joe Williams was driven to be a part of the Foundation from what he calls the best three days of his life. “My three children were born at Bonner General. The three best days of our lives took place at the hospital, and that is what made me want to be involved,” shared Williams.
Today, Williams and Heiser, along with dozens of others, donate their time to the Bonner General Health Foundation, a nonprofit organization that is not only enhancing the lives of patients in our community, but saving lives as well.
The Foundation was originally formed in 1979 with a purpose to educate the community and provide additional medical equipment to Bonner General.
“It went dormant for awhile and was re-established in November of 2007,” said Bonner General Health’s CEO Sheryl Rickard, who explains that the board of directors for Bonner General Health felt that there needed to be an increased awareness of the healthcare resources available to Sandpoint and the surrounding community. Also, as a nonprofit hospital they were challenged to keep up with technology and advances in healthcare. But that all changed with the revived Foundation and the extraordinary effort by many in the community to help raise funds.
According to Robin Hanson, marketing specialist for Bonner General Health and Foundation, since its first event in February of 2008, the Heart Ball, the Foundation’s’ signature fundraiser, has raised approximately $500,000.
In addition to the Heart Ball, funds are generated through an appeal letter campaign to various residents twice each year. “We also receive general donations as well as funds through memorial dedications when someone passes away,” said Hanson.
The Heart Ball, which is held each February and is always a sell out, is the Foundation’s primary fundraiser. This year will be the ninth annual Heart Ball. It started as a black tie formal event and today is black tie optional. A beautiful sit down dinner is preceded by a social hour of champagne and a chance to mingle with other attendees. Following the meal there is a live auction with everything from an opportunity to bid on a stay at a condo in Maui to original artwork by Sandpoint’s own Georgia Simmons. They also have packages such as a weekend trip to Walla Walla for wine tasting and the “Stellar Cellar” which includes several bottles of wine from Pend d’Oreille Winery.
One of the favorite parts of the event is the dessert auction. “Numerous restaurants and individuals in town donate wonderful desserts that are incredibly tasty and beautiful for us to auction off. Trinity at City Beach does their own 20-lb. cake called the ‘TCB’ cake,” said Heiser. The TCB stands for toffee, coffee and bacon. And to work off the delectable desserts, the evening concludes with dancing.
The funds raised by Bonner General Health Foundation over the last nine years have had a significant impact on the lives of local residents. The Foundation has purchased a portable ultrasound machine, surgical warming cabinets, cardiac equipment, items for the pediatric and rehabilitation departments, and have been working to elevate the patient care environment.
“We purchased pieces of equipment for departments over the years with the funds raised from the Heart Ball, currently we are focusing on elevating the environment of patient care; upgrading items that touch more of our patients,” said Hanson.
While many are still traveling out of town for some of their healthcare needs, they may not be aware that many of those services are now available at Bonner General Health—something the board hopes people will inquire about before driving out of town.
“Some people think bigger is better,” said Rickard of the misconception many have when it comes to healthcare. “It is important for us to provide an inviting atmosphere because we provide really great care here.”
The Board and Beyond
The Foundation Board consists of a diverse group of individuals including people from the tourism industry, medical community, financial industry, real estate, members of local businesses and retirees. They meet monthly to discuss the needs of Bonner General Health and the best way to meet those needs.
In addition to the board, there is also an advisory council which consists of approximately 60 people from the Sandpoint community; that too is comprised of an eclectic group of individuals.
“It’s a diverse group, including different age groups,” said Heiser. “Because different age groups have different healthcare needs.”
The members of the advisory council serve in a role similar to that of an ambassador. They listen to the needs of the community as those needs relate to healthcare and help spread awareness of all that is available at Bonner General Health. “Awareness is a huge piece,” said Rickard of educating the community on the services that are available locally. “(The advisory council) helps us prioritize our community’s needs.”
The advisory board meets with the board three times each year and receives an update on what is going on at Bonner General Health. It is also a time when the members of the advisory board can provide feedback from the community.
One thing that may not be evident to many is the extent of the impact Bonner General Health and its employees have on the community. For instance, Bonner General Health works closely with Schweitzer Mountain Resort and, since the winter of 2012, has staffed the resort’s first aid station full time with a Registered Nurse at no charge to the resort. That is just one way they partner with others.
And as far as the Foundation goes, Rickard said that while it has been a blessing to have the additional funds, it is partnering with the community that has also made a difference. “Getting the community involved has been one of the best parts of the Foundation,” she said.
How Can You Help?
There are many ways you can contribute to the Bonner General Health Foundation. One way is through planned giving. If you are working with a financial consultant and want to donate to the Foundation, meet with them to discuss the best way to do that given your budget and circumstances.
Do you have a special passion for pediatrics, cardiac care or another area of healthcare? You can donate and earmark your donation for a specific department or need at the hospital.
Any donation made to Bonner General Health Foundation is tax deductible so it is a win-win situation.
To donate, mail your donation to: Bonner General Health Foundation, 520 North 3rd Avenue, Sandpoint, ID 83864.