Johnston Hospice drive trumps recession

Hector Perez
Hector Perez

Todd Cohen

SMITHFIELD, N.C. — In January 2008, when Hector Perez became its first executive director, Johnston Memorial Hospital Foundation had raised only $500,000 in its campaign to secure $3.8 million to build the first hospice facility in Johnston County.

Now, in a mainly rural county that reportedly never had been the focus of a countywide fundraising effort, and despite the worst economic crisis in the U.S. since the Great Depression, the foundation has exceeded its goal by $700,000.

Key to that success, says Perez, were volunteer leaders who ran the campaign like a business, set an aggressive timetable, recruited fundraising volunteers from each of the county’s 10 municipalities, established “deliverables” for those volunteers, and encouraged them to ask prospective donors to set their own goals.

Ultimately, Perez says, the campaign worked because it was able to communicate the message that “this was a service for all the residents of Johnston County.”

Because of the additional funds raised, Johnston Health, the newly-named system that includes Johnston Medical Center-Smithfield, formerly Johnston Memorial Hospital, has asked state regulators to let it build a larger hospice facility than they previously approved.

The new facility would total 17,000 square feet, up from 12,458 square feet previously approved, and would include 12 private in-patient beds, up from eight already approved, and six private residential beds, up from four already approved.

Named for the State Employees Credit Union, which contributed $1 million to the campaign, SECU Hospice House will be located in Smithfield near the hospital on an eight-acre site it purchased from the city and that served as Bingham Park.

Chaired by Durwood Stephenson, president and founder of general contractor M. Durwood Stephenson and Associates, the campaign also received $500,000 each from First Citizens Bank and from an anonymous donor; over $1.2 million from other individuals; $565,000 from the federal government; and a total of $490,000 from the Johnston County Board of Commissioners and each of the county’s 10 towns.

“We refused to buckle under the economic conditions in the country,” Perez says. “Our strategy was to make it a countywide campaign. We wanted all the towns and municipalities to participate financially and through volunteers.”

So the campaign recruited residents of each community to raise money locally, making the case that, even though the new facility will be located in Smithfield, the county’s biggest town, it will serve the entire county.

“Each of those key volunteers were from the area, had a personal or professional investment in the area, and were able to communicate the mission and the business plan of the Johnston Hospice House,” Perez says.

While the foundation still must collect pledges and wrap up the campaign, he says, it already is gearing up for the future, developing a strategic plan that will look at the health-care needs of the county and the role the foundation can play in supporting efforts to address those needs.

That could include a capital campaign to pay for future needs of Johnston Health, including the $40 million Johnston Medical Center-Clayton now under construction; creation of a long-term endowment; expansion of a program to secure planned gifts; and an increase in the foundation’s annual fund.

“Based on the successful capital campaign,” Perez says, “hopefully we can transition donors and supporters for the annual giving program as well.”

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