Share the patient experience, share your brand

Meet Sarah.

Sarah was a 26 year-old newly graduated teacher who always dreamed of getting married. She had a met and subsequently became engaged to a wonderful man. Always the planner, everything in her “life plan” was unfolding nicely.

What she hadn’t planned for was a stage four cervical cancer diagnoses. There would be no teaching career captivating the minds of young children and there certainly would be no children of her own.

But, thanks to Bruyère Foundation – there would be a wedding.

A month before her wedding, Sarah had to be admitted to Bruyere’s palliative care unit. At only 31 beds, this world-renowned unit is the world’s largest academic palliative care unit in Canada.


Sarah learned on a Thursday morning that her illness had progressed to a point where she could no longer leave the hospital to attend her carefully organized and often dreamed about wedding that Saturday.  Upon learning of this unfortunate circumstance, the Hospital’s Foundation rallied a team together and asked the family the question, “Why not have the wedding here?”  Within hours, staff and volunteers organically mobilized themselves to bring the wedding and its 200 guests to the Élisabeth Bruyère Hospital. On Saturday morning, staff and volunteers came in to help with wedding details like parking, cleaning, ushering guests to their seats and reserving a busy hospital elevator just for wedding guests.  Even Sarah’s nurse came in her day off to ensure her patient’s comfort.  When Sarah was wheeled to her wedding from her hospital room, staff and patients lined the hallways and serenaded her with the lyrics to “Going to Chapel.”  We were able to make Sarah’s dream come true.   Sadly, Sarah did not live to see her wedding pictures.

This experience had absolutely nothing to do with fundraising but everything to do with building relationships and simply, doing the right thing. What it did was demonstrate to our community the uniqueness of the “Bruyere Care” experience.  Wedding guests and family members were proud to recount the tale of how no one at Bruyere asked why we were organizing a wedding – they just asked “how” they could help. It is stories like Sarah’s that build a reputation. It is that reputation in turn that inspires a community to support the dreams and mission of an organization whose staff have consistently gone that extra mile for our community for 170 years. That’s what we do as fundraisers isn’t it?  Help our hospitals reach their goals and ensure our donors feel confident about where they are investing their money.

From newborn babies at our two Academic Family Medicine Centres to centenarians in long-term care – Bruyère has 731 beds distributed over three sites in the Ottawa area. And over 100,000 visits to our outpatient clinics annually.

We know that the experience patients and their families have at our hospital is our brand. Our front line staff are our best fundraisers.  People give to us because of their direct or indirect experience with our team. Our health care organizations are rising to a higher standard of customer service, delivering a ‘human service.’ The patient experience begins and ends with human contact – sometimes physical – yet, always emotional.  It is that experience that allows us to exceed our fundraising dreams….or not.


Come with me back to 2004. A popular, local radio news channel, CFRA, had learned about the lack of air conditioning at one of Bruyere’s sites, Saint-Vincent Hospital. One of the hosts began discussing this situation on the air. And the community rallied – so much so, air conditioners were being dropped off on the front lawn of the hospital!

CFRA wanted to help and offered to host a “radiothon” to raise money for Saint-Vincent Hospital.  The goal that first year was $50,000 – this was raised in the first hour. Bruyere made radio history that year – and by adding new elements over the last 10 years – has continued to make radio history by raising over $5, 000 000 in 10 years.

Since 2004 – many CFRA reporters and hosts have come to have very personal experiences with a Bruyere program. This is common in Ottawa, if you live in the region long enough, you or a loved one will come to benefit from a Bruyere program or service. They give because a Bruyere nurse, a doctor, an allied health professional, a porter or a housekeeper went the extra mile in providing that special Bruyere Care.

Our strong reputation in the community has allowed Bruyere to not only impact change within its facilities but has allowed it to help other organizations to fill important health needs in our community. Such as hospice care.

In Ottawa, we should have upwards of 70 hospice care beds – we have nine. Or, I should say, had nine, past-tense.

Due to Bruyere’s international reputation in palliative care, and our expertise in fundraising, we took the lead in opening more hospice care beds in Ottawa and began a partnership with Hospice Care Ottawa (an amalgamation of The Hospice at May Court and Friends of Hospice Ottawa) in January 2013.  Together, we set out on an aggressive fundraising campaign to build a hospice in the west end of Ottawa.   This hospice would be owned and run by Hospice Care Ottawa.  Bruyere Foundation (a separate but partner organization) would do the fundraising.  A unique and innovative partnership was created.

The world took notice with this partnership. The largest private donation to a hospice in Canadian history was given to us by the Ruddy and Shenkman families. To date, almost six million dollars has been raised in only two years for the hospice project. The Ruddy Shenkman Hospice, a full service 10-bed hospice, will open in Ottawa’s west end in 2016 thanks to a solid reputation and an innovative model of philanthropy.

I’m grateful that Bruyere had the wisdom and foresight to see a need in the community and work to find a solution. By intertwining need and immediate solution, we have been able to build this hospice. Due to this success, building a second hospice in the east-end of Ottawa is presently in the prospecting stages.


We recognize that times have changed, the philanthropic landscape is a crowded space, and kids are taking care of their parents. As a Foundation, we continue to focus on the strengths and niches that Bruyere offers and we build on them. We focus on engaging our current donors while also engaging a new generation. We pay respect to our roots while keeping an eye on innovation.  We know that our success in fundraising has everything to do with our front line staff and their commitment to delivering kind, safe care.  And we always remain grateful to those who choose to invest in Bruyere so we can be there for our community when it needs us.