Porter Hospital seeks ongoing support

CURRENT AND FUTURE clients of Helen Porter Rehabilitation & Nursing will benefit mightily from the 38 new wardrobes and bedside tables delivered to the facility in March. The furniture was financed through a $57,000 bequest from the late Ben and Lois Foster of Middlebury. Porter Medical Center is stepping up its efforts to encourage planned giving as a way to support the county’s health care hub. Photo courtesy of Amy Barr

There are a lot of powerful ways to give that go beyond writing a check from your cash accounts.
— Bradley Fletcher, UVM Health Network

MIDDLEBURY — Through the years, lifelong Middlebury residents Ben and Lois Foster developed a deep appreciation for Helen Porter Rehabilitation & Nursing. While he was alive, Ben showed his gratitude through service on the Porter Medical Center (PMC) board.

And though they recently passed away, Ben and Lois Foster continue to support Helen Porter in a very tangible way. On March 16, delivery trucks pulled up to the facility at 30 Porter Drive bearing a utilitarian legacy for current and future residents of the county’s nursing home: 38 new wardrobes and bedside tables for each resident/patient room. The Fosters’ son and daughter-in-law, Ted and Deborah Foster, worked with Helen Porter officials to prioritize spending of the $57,000 bequest.

“It’s attractive, solid furniture that will enhance our residents’ lives for many years to come,” said PMC Director of Development Amy Barr. “It was pretty special.”

The Fosters’ generous gift was serendipitous, like others Porter has sporadically received during its 96 years of existence. But with health care funding a constant challenge and an unknown number of local citizens who might be willing to financially sustain the county’s medical hub, PMC — which owes its very existence to a sizeable donation from William Henry Porter back in 1925 — is busily building a “planned giving” program.

The effort is long overdue, according to Ron Hallman, Porter’s vice president of communications and engagement.

“During the last 100 years, we’ve been really reactive, in terms of giving,” he said. “We haven’t really made any particular effort to provide the community with education or seminars or tools or websites and brochures. We have simply talked about our mission and our needs. There have been many people in this community during the last 100 years who have simply, on their own initiative, taken that information and put a codicil in their will.”

The planned giving initiative spans the University of Vermont Health Network’s seven hospital affiliates, including PMC. Porter took its first big step last year, when it hired Barr as its first-ever development director. She’ll spend her time soliciting gifts and explaining the variety of ways people can contribute to PMC — an organization that includes the hospital, Helen Porter, and a dozen affiliated primary practices.

The other UVMHN affiliates have made similar hires. Together, these development directors work with Bradley Fletcher — the network’s recently hired senior planned giving officer — on outreach and education strategies for prospective donors.

Giving options go beyond mere estate planning and include:

•  IRA or life insurance designations.

“The gifts pass outside of your probate estate and offer significant tax advantages for your family,” reads an explanation on PMC’s planned giving website,

•  Gifts of appreciated stock. Porter can receive 100% of the value, with the donor paying no taxes on the gain.

•  IRA “charitable rollovers,” meeting the donor’s required minimum distribution level while lowering their tax burden.

•  Using a combination of gifts to create an endowed fund.

It can be a tricky road to navigate, and Fletcher and Barr are more than happy to help out.

“What I do is try to provide guidance and work to develop materials, the website, work with donors and all of our directors of development to increase our efforts with planned giving, so we can inform the donors what they can do with their gifts,” Fletcher said.

“There are a lot of powerful ways to give that go beyond writing a check from your cash accounts,” he added.

Fletcher stressed all gifts made to Porter will stay with Porter, and won’t be disbursed among other UVMHN affiliates (unless that’s the donor’s wish).

Hallman, Barr and Fletcher also stressed donations are welcome in all sizes, and can add up over time.

“The thing about planned gifts is that they provide sustained support through good times and bad,” Hallman said. “They are a legacy. And I think there are people in this world who would like to think that even though they’re not millionaires, they can make a gift that will last for generations and continue to support this community for years to come.”

Indeed, Porter officials never know what amount they might find in a bequest envelope. It might be $230 in stock someone chose to pass along. Or it could be a bigger bonanza — such as what Hallman described as a “high six-figures” donation that a recently deceased Helen Porter resident (with no relatives) chose to leave to PMC earlier this year. Hallman promised to share more details about that gift — and its potential uses — once the donor’s estate is settled.

The joy of receiving is always somewhat muted by the related loss of a life, according to Barr.

“It’s bittersweet to open an envelope to find a bequest; you’re so sad to see that someone has died, but then you feel so incredibly honored that someone has recognized Porter in some way and has planned ahead to have a lasting impact,” she said.

Many of the unexpected gifts Porter has received have been unrestricted; others come with specific instructions to support a favorite PMC building or program. It’s always helpful to speak with PMC officials beforehand, according to Fletcher, who noted some well-intentioned gift ideas don’t pass the test of time. He cited the example of a person who might have pledged a set amount each year for the purchase of typewriters for a school.

“By the year 2000, you don’t need that (typewriter) fund, so (the money) just sits there because legally it has to do what the donor wants,” Fletcher said. “So we want to have those conversations with people to make sure we can understand and fulfill their wishes.”

John Flowers is at [email protected].

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