50/50 draws making a difference for small hospitals in the Northwest

For the Dryden Regional Health Centre, monthly 50/50 draws have become an essential part of fundraising efforts.

Chuck Schmitt, the fundraising and recruitment manager for the Dryden Regional Health Centre, said using the 50/50 fundraiser was borne out of necessity.

“We started about two years ago, it coincided with the pandemic and that essentially slammed the brakes on all traditional fundraising efforts that we have been involved with. And so we have been looking at some online options and with COVID that sort of kick started the transition to the online 50/50,” he said. “To be honest it's been a godsend, I don't know how we would have raised the money we've raised had we not gone with this format.

Schmitt said the amounts raised still amaze him, noting the final prize at the end of February was $65,000.

He said they have received a lot of community support for the fundraiser.

“We just sort of have carved out a nice little niche in the region. We are a centre for a lot of people that live in our catchment area,” he said. “It's been nothing short of amazing.”

Schmitt gave the example of how the hospital had earmarked dollars for a new digital X-ray, since the current unit was approaching the end of its functional lifespan.

“Before the online 50/50 we thought that would take a two-year campaign to raise basically a million dollars and we were able to do that in our first year. So that was phenomenal,” he said. “We always try and connect the purpose of why we're doing these lotteries and telling people the equipment we're buying with it.”

“Every single penny that comes from that lottery goes directly to patient care initiatives, equipment,” he said.

He said one of the things they do is try to make it fun.

“We host our draws live on our Facebook page, so there's some transparency there and we get a chance to interact with people,” he said. “The other thing that we do is we try and capture the winning calls on video. Some of those are just gold. It's the best part of the job.”

Schmitt said as they return to normal programming, they will do some smaller events and some traditional fundraisers that can be a little more labour intensive, but will allow the hospital to get out and thank local businesses and donors.

“I will continue to run the 50/50 until it doesn't become viable,” he said.

The North of Superior Healthcare Group, which operates the Wilson Memorial General Hospital in Marathon and the McCausland Hospital in Terrace Bay also uses a 50/50 fundraiser.

CEO Adam Brown said they also started it as a response to the pandemic, which forced them to think about how to raise funds in a virtual capacity.

“Face to face just wasn't possible in the early parts of COVID and so we're able to run our 50 50 virtually via our dedicated website. People can pay online, all the management of the money, and the actual draw is done virtually and confidentially,” he said.

Brown said since they introduced the program, they’ve had some higher volume months and some lower ones and typical pots range from $4,000 to $7,000 a month.

“Particularly around periods like the Christmas holidays people tend to be more generous and our pots get quite a bit larger, close to $15,000 this year,” he said.

He said net proceeds from the 50/50 fundraiser are about $100,000 annually, which is a substantial amount for them.

Brown said hospitals have to fundraise because of the way the funding model operates.

“You might expect the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care [or other relevant ministry] would pay for things like equipment and the reality is they don't. In theory, we're supposed to raise or have a small surplus in our operations, which we can turn around and use for capital expenditures,” he said.

“The ability to generate a break-even budget in the environments we operate is really challenging. So we have to fundraise to be able to build new long-term care homes and [purchase major equipment].”

Other healthcare organizations in the Northwest operating 50/50 fundraising programs include the Riverside Foundation in the Rainy River area, Lake of the Woods District Hospital Foundation in Kenora, and the Sioux Lookout Meno Ya Win Health Centre Foundation.

One hospital in the region — the Red Lake Margaret Cochenour Memorial Hospital — has decided to wind down its 50/50 fundraising effort, with December being its final draw, according to a spokesperson.

But another one is ramping up efforts to start up their own 50/50.

On April 1, the Geraldton District Hospital will start ticket sales for its first 50/50 draw.

CEO Darryl Galusha said this will become regular monthly event and will help bring attention to the fact not everything is covered by funding partners.

“This is an opportunity to supplement that and allow people to benefit from it as well,” he said. “And just continue to do something that brings the community together.”

Galusha said they’ve gotten lots of positive attention on social media so far with many views and shares of the upcoming fundraiser.

“Not just in Greenstone but across Canada,“ he said. “We have people from the Greenstone area that [now] live in numerous places. They want to support the hospital and this is a great way to do it.”

Galusha said the one positive takeaway from COVID was it showed for healthcare providers across the region, “together we're stronger.”

He said organizations like North of Superior, Thunder Bay Regional, Dryden Regional and Riverside Healthcare in Fort Frances have all helped give a hand to help them get the 50/50 started.

“We've reached out to all of our system partners for ideas [about the 50/50]. They've shared information, they've shared the paperwork. And you'll find in health care that we've there's so much collaboration and there's so much sharing,” he said.

“Everyone's willing to help each other across the board. We've been really breaking down a lot of barriers and a lot of silos over the last three, four or five years. We work together to meet the needs of the people that we serve.”

Eric Shih, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Thunder Bay Source