Elvis impersonator Joseph Hall holding a microphone walking around guests' tables
Elvis impersonator Joseph Hall entertains guests at Thayer County Health Services’ 2019 gala where $56,000 was raised for a new hospital analyzer, an essential lab equipment. Photo courtesy of the Hebron Journal Register.

Throughout Nebraska, rural hospitals host creative fundraising events in order to maintain quality healthcare services and fund improvements.

On Nov. 13, the Foundation for Thayer County Health Services will have its annual gala at the Stastny Community Center to raise money to replace the clinic’s 17 hospital beds. According to its website, the current patient beds are demo beds purchased over 10 years ago.

The goal is to raise $24,000, and for every donation up to that amount, the Foundation and Hospital Guild will match it. That $48,000 would cover four new hospital beds, with the remaining to be gradually replaced over the next several years.

The gala is the foundation’s main fundraising event, featuring various live entertainment each year. Rita Luongo, marketing and development director at Thayer County Health Services, explained how revenue from the hospital is usually just enough to keep doors open and the staff paid. Renovations, projects, equipment upgrades or charity care are supplemented by donations and grants.

“When you’re cost-based reimbursed, there’s not always a lot of extra funds available to add services and things like that,” she said.

Thayer County Health Services is a critical access hospital, one of 63 in Nebraska. A CAH designation means a hospital has 25 or fewer inpatient beds, offers 24/7 emergency care, maintains patient stays to 96 hours or less and is located more than 35 miles from another hospital, according to the Rural Health Information Hub. For a county with a predominantly older population that can’t travel far for appointments, it’s important to be able to provide quality, local health care, according to Luongo.

Luongo said Thayer County Health Services is able to provide that care because of the great support it receives from the community.

“Since we are a county hospital, we’re not owned by any one individual. We’re owned by the taxpayers of Thayer County,” she said. “So their gifts to it is just helping take care of something that, being a resident of Thayer County, is part of their amenities.”

Galas are just one of many types of fundraising events foundations host to support their hospital. Others include golf tournaments, pancake feeds, barbecues and silent auctions, according to Jed Hansen, executive director at Nebraska Rural Health Association.

Earlier this month, Community Hospital in McCook, another critical access hospital, hosted its ninth annual Concert for Healthcare to raise funds to fill healthcare gaps. This includes purchasing new healthcare equipment, adding additions to the hospital, providing diabetic and nutritional education to patients and more. Over 800 people attended the event.

Jessica Bortner, executive director of the Community Hospital Health Foundation in McCook, said the foundation chose to host a concert because it gave them a greater marketing opportunity to build awareness for the hospital, what it does and what its future activities are. Every year, the concert is run by volunteers from the hospital and supported by a variety of business sponsors in the community.

“It really is a community event,” Bortner said. “It takes community dollars, and it takes donations, whether it be food to feed the bands that are coming in, hospitals to put people up, just a variety of pieces.”

Bortner explained how important fundraising is due to the highly regulated and expensive nature of health care.

“Fundraising is incredibly necessary due to the nature of health care and insurance, the increasing costs of purchasing equipment and having the staff to provide the services,” she said. “Insurance doesn’t normally cover all the costs. Medicare and Medicaid definitely doesn’t cover the cost of providing services, so the foundation is really looked at to help cover financial gaps in care.”

Halle Starns is a senior journalism and advertising & public relations double major. She is currently a copy editor at The Daily Nebraskan.