March 8, 2019

Nurse anesthetists raise more than $10,000 for Employee Hardship Fund

A competitive spirit mixed with delicious homemade baklava can achieve powerful results

group photo of Jim Kendall, moderator of the VUMC Employee Hardship Fund, surrounded by nurse anesthetists from the Department of Anesthesiology for a VUMC Voice story. The nurse anesthetists will be presenting a check donation to Jim Kendall for the Employee Hardship Fund during their regular department meeting

CRNA team members present the group’s donation to Jim Kendall, LCSW, CEAP, manager of Work/Life Connections, at the CRNA staff meeting on Feb. 27. From left: Julie York, Brent Dunworth, Donna Keeney, Amanda Dickert, Kendall, Laura Durchsprung and Edith Newberry. Photo by Susan Urmy

If you asked Donna Keeney, a nurse anesthetist in Vanderbilt’s Department of Anesthesiology, to describe her colleagues with two words, she would use “generous” and “competitive.”

And, when those two qualities are combined, incredible things can happen.

A few years back, Keeney’s department began incorporating charitable work into its annual celebration of Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA) Week, which is observed in January. Since these efforts began under the leadership of colleagues Edith Newberry and Mary Peters, the department has donated money, time, food and supplies to individuals (and pets) in need of assistance.

This year, the team raised $10,470  for the VUMC Employee Hardship Fund. Thanks to the efforts of more than 160 Vanderbilt CRNAs, the fund will have those resources to provide financial assistance to colleagues across the Medical Center who are facing a hardship, particularly one that is unexpected.

A bake sale was among the money-raising strategies employed by CRNA employees.

“Good people are often faced with challenging financial circumstances due to events outside of their control,” said Jim Kendall, LCSW, CEAP, manager of Work/Life Connections, who noted the fund has offered relief to colleagues facing sudden hospitalizations, acute illnesses, house fires, funerals and moves due to situations involving domestic violence.

“While the fund isn’t set up to cover all situations or expenses, it may offer one way to assist fellow employees in need,” he said.

Since the fund was established in 1994, more than 3,000 VUMC and Vanderbilt University employees have benefitted, with an additional 600 VUMC employees having benefitted from the fund since the Medical Center’s split from the University three years ago.

“We work with people every day who we don’t know may be needing something. Whatever their bills might be, they may think that they’re at the end of their rope,” said Keeney. “If this donation can help take the burden of, for example, a house payment off them, I feel like that would be a huge weight lifted.”

To encourage participation, the department turned the fundraising into a friendly competition between its six CRNA divisions, with the winner determined by the most funds raised per capita. The divisions hosted taco bars, chili cook-offs, bake sales, basket auctions and raffles — including a bid for third-row tickets to see the Nashville Predators take on the Detroit Red Wings, which were donated by an anesthesiologist.

“CRNAs are so good at taking care of people. We take care of everything our patients need during surgery. So, why not take care of our own, too? It’s our job, so I wanted to expand that outside of the operating room.”

“It got crazy. Everyone wanted those tickets,” laughed Keeney.

Daily emails sent by Nurse Anesthesia Division Chief, Brent Dunworth, detailing the department’s “leader board” kept the competitive spirit alive.

“Dessert sales, gift baskets and many other similar efforts appeared almost daily,” said Dunworth. “This effort allowed a real injection of fun into the workplace during an annual week where we celebrate our own profession. The outpouring of generosity from the VUMC nurse anesthetists wildly exceeded even our own expectations.”

“It’s pretty hard to exceed your target when you didn’t even know what your target was, and our CRNAs did it. It was amazing,” said Keeney.

With the amount of money rolling in from various events, the team encountered issues paying the fundraiser’s dedicated Venmo account due to hitting the maximum transfer amount allowed at a given time.

“We raised so much money, we had to pay it in installments,” said Keeney.

Another benefit of the fundraiser was raising awareness of the Employee Hardship Fund, which Keeney had heard about for the first time through a VUMC Voice article published in December.

Keeney mentioned several colleagues — both from within Anesthesiology and from other departments — ventured over to participate in the events because they received assistance through the fund when they needed it most and had hopes of paying it forward.

“Our chief didn’t even tell us what the prize would be. I still don’t know what it was. Nobody cared, because it wasn’t about that. Everyone just felt really good about doing it,” said Keeney.

“CRNAs are so good at taking care of people. We take care of everything our patients need during surgery. So, why not take care of our own, too? It’s our job, so I wanted to expand that outside of the operating room.”

While the CRNAs from the Cardiothoracic Division took home the “gold” with the most money raised per team member, Keeney said many of her colleagues are already discussing the secret tactics they’ll deploy next year.