Avera employees, Auxiliary step up for cancer center

MARSHALL – News that Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center wanted to build a cancer treatment institute resonated with a lot of people in southwest Minnesota.

It was no different for the people who work at the hospital.

On Wednesday, employees at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center and members of the Avera Marshall Auxiliary celebrated another large donation toward the planned cancer institute. Together, an employee fundraising campaign and a matching donation from the Auxiliary have raised a total of $304,000.

“The staff response has been really positive,” said James Hill, one of the chairpeople of the employee campaign.

Employees ranging from part-time workers to longtime hospital staff offered to give, regardless if the amount was big or small. Not all of the contributions have been cash or checks, organizers said. Some donors have pledged vacation hours, and one farming family made a gift of grain.

“The whole campaign has been that you should give what you can,” said campaign co-chair Jo Coover.

Coover said it definitely helped that the cancer center project has widespread community support.

“They know what a difference it’s going to be making in so many people’s lives,” she said. “It wasn’t a hard sell.”

About 91 percent of Avera Marshall employees have participated in the fundraising campaign, said Avera Marshall Foundation Executive Director Marty Seifert. It’s unusual to see a participation rate that high in a voluntary employee drive, he said.

Avera Marshall employees contributed about $152,000 in cash and pledges toward the cancer institute.

The Auxiliary, an organization whose members help support the hospital through volunteer work and fundraising, made a matching donation.

Auxiliary member Coleen Frye said the funds for the donation came from money previously set aside by area residents who had a vision of doing something more for the community.

Through the cancer center, the funds would be used to help make a profound difference in people’s lives, she said.

Hill said in some ways, matching the donation is just an extension of all the things the Auxiliary already does for the hospital.

“We’re very fortunate here to have that community support,” he said. “Without it, it would be a struggle to make even simple things happen.”

Avera Marshall is working toward a goal of raising $5.45 million in time for a fall groundbreaking ceremony. The $12.9 million cancer institute would offer resources like chemotherapy and radiation treatments for people in an eight-county area. Right now, undergoing radiation therapy means a drive to cities like Willmar or Sioux Falls, S.D.

Avera Marshall already offers chemotherapy. However, Deb Baumann, lead chemotherapy nurse at Avera Marshall, said she knows firsthand that there’s a need for more treatment opportunities in the region. Patients and families are excited to hear about plans for the cancer center, she said – even if they’ll be out of treatment by the time it’s finished.

“Having radiation without that making that drive, that’s huge,” Baumann said.

Campaign organizers are proud of the employees and community members who’ve contributed so far, Baumann said.

“People have really stepped up to the plate,” she said.