A Personal Connection to an Important Cause

August 16, 2022 by Elena Conway

Social media crowdfunding leads to improved well-being for Suburban Hospital staff

Suburban Hospital Foundation’s Board of Trustee member Wendi Sager smiles for the camera.
Wendi Sager’s role as a Suburban Hospital Foundation Board of Trustee member helped direct her community towards actionable support for its local hospital during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wendi Sager knew that Suburban Hospital was just under a mile away from her house in Bethesda, Maryland. But it wasn’t until 11 years ago, when her mother had a major stroke and was saved by Suburban’s staff, that she and her family began championing their local hospital. Since then, more of her family needed care at Suburban, a Johns Hopkins community hospital — from her parents, to children, and extended family — and Sager has appreciated the outstanding treatment they have received from doctors and nurses at each visit.

In 2019, Sager joined the Suburban Hospital Foundation’s Board of Trustees, a role that was put to the test at the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. Health care workers’ accomplishments and struggles took center stage, and Wendi saw a chance to use her contacts at the hospital’s Foundation and her networks on social media to develop pathways for the surrounding community to support Suburban’s staff.

We talked with Wendi to find out more on how she used her role as a Suburban Hospital volunteer to engage with her local community.

What’s your experience been like on Suburban’s Foundation Board?

It’s been an interesting time. I knew what outstanding care the hospital provides. Knowing that not just the doctors and nurses but all the support staff were working hard at a risk to themselves and their families during the pandemic — I wanted to contribute in some way. So I began to crowdsource for the hospital through social media. Everybody wanted to do something productive, and I could say, ‘Here’s something concrete that we can provide to all these first responders and frontline workers who are doing heroic work in our community.’

At first, I received contributions towards meals for the health care workers. People would give money, I would reach out to local restaurants for meals, and people volunteered to deliver food to the hospital. The hospital had a liaison who was very organized and made sure everyone there was getting something, from the physicians and nurses to the night shift to the environmental crew. It was a good introduction to the process.

From there, I raised funds to provide produce boxes from Keany Produce. We delivered 250 boxes to Suburban staff, who then didn’t have to go to the grocery store at the end of a long shift.

How have your efforts evolved since the onset of the pandemic?

It was all very informal at the beginning. I initially received donations from my personal contacts and from friends of friends, using direct emails and Facebook appeals to promote the effort when the need arose. Some people then shared my emails and posts with their own networks. When I started collecting money for produce boxes, I also began reaching out to our neighborhood NextDoor group [a social media app for neighborhoods].

Then, when the Delta and Omicron variants began to peak at the end of 2021, there was a concentrated effort to support staff resiliency programs. Again, it was easy to get people on board. We still couldn’t volunteer in-person, so I shared on social media: ‘There’s a new surge. These doctors, nurses, and support staff are working really hard again. Let’s do everything we can to give these folks some downtime, a way to relax in those few minutes when they have a chance in the resiliency lounges.’

I was happy to see the foundation support that effort, and to learn that going forward, Suburban plans to continue these kinds of resiliency programs. Even when there’s not a surge, there’s certainly a need for them.

What advice would you give to others on how to use social media for community engagement?

Social media has its faults and challenges, but raising awareness of community needs is one of its positive effects. You can let people know what resources are available in our community and what organizations need in order to provide those resources. And I think it’s important to show how the funds are being used.

After raising money, I would post pictures of nurses receiving some of the gifts that we donated. That, I think, makes people feel good about having made those contributions and more willing to do it again. It gave the cause a personal connection.

Why is it important to give this kind of support to one’s community hospital?

We are incredibly lucky to have such an amazing hospital so close to our homes. The care is outstanding, and we want to attract and keep amazing doctors and nurses in our community. If we can show the staff how much we appreciate them, hopefully we can continue to attract that same level of care.

Suburban is continuing to look for ways to grow their resources, such as with the expansion of the Emergency Department and behavioral health facilities — they’re responding to the changing needs of the community, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic.

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Topics: Faculty and Staff, Friends of Johns Hopkins Medicine, Johns Hopkins Medicine, Strengthening Partnerships