Heather Smith, ’17, M.S.’18, is executive director of the Orleans Community Health Foundation. While her primary responsibility, fundraising, has not changed in the wake of the evolving coronavirus pandemic, she has shifted her focus from working with large donors and planning a capital campaign to requesting donations that literally may save the lives of those with whom she works.

“I had to do a complete 180 and change to a plea for in-kind donations,” she said. “It was quite a shift.”

The Gasport, N.Y., native, who has held the position for nearly a year, is now securing donations of PPE and other crucial items that will ensure the safety of those working at Orleans Community Health, a full-service community health provider serving 43,000 residents in Orleans, Eastern Niagara, and Northern Genesee counties.

Donations like these are especially important for organizations like hers, she noted.

“Small, rural hospitals all across the country are having to meet and follow all of the same regulations that the larger city hospitals (do),” she said. “However, we will likely be harder hit from an operational standpoint. The number of patients that we will see from COVID-19 will be smaller, because we don’t have a dense population, but the financial burden will still be significant.”

Heather has been inspired by the way her community has rallied to support the healthcare workers she represents.

“I have worked nonstop for two weeks now, because the community is so willing to help us out,” she said. “They are donating gloves, masks, protective gear, cots for staff to sleep on, blankets, food, and more. It’s truly unbelievable how much they have helped us prepare.”

She also says that the teamwork on the part of the healthcare workers, themselves, has been a bright spot in an otherwise dark situation.

“Everyone is working together to help each other out,” she said. “Staff from departments that are temporarily shut down due to mandates are cross-training to work in other areas because of the increased need. Many of us are from this community, so to work together and help care for our community members is more personal than if we were in the city hospitals. … we know most of the people that we are caring for. They are our parents, teachers, babysitters, friends – they are our family.”

Heather, who is also responsible for community relations, has found that the pandemic has given her greater exposure to her neighbors, as she works to engage them in more meaningful ways.

“I am generating more social media posts than I had before, and they are being shared like wildfire,” she said. “The community is starving for information and inspiration. I am trying to balance giving them a little of both each day.”

Your Thoughts