Rona Davis’ commitment to the Jewish General Hospital (JGH) began in 2012 when her husband was admitted for spinal surgery. Overwhelmed with gratitude after a successful procedure, the couple asked the then Chief of Neurology, Dr. Calvin Melmed, how they could help to support the department.

As it happened, the department needed a stroke unit, so that patients suspected of having a stroke during triage could be sent to a specialized centre for treatment. Davis got right to work with her husband. Together with a committee of volunteers, the couple co-chaired a fundraising initiative and contributed towards raising the funds necessary to build a stroke unit at the JGH.

“We worked as a team,” Davis recalled. “The committee went through lists of everyone we knew who would be able to help the hospital. We started calling, making personal visits, and having meetings and lunches to interest families in participating in this fundraising project.”

“We got a lot of guidance from the JGH Foundation,” Davis continued. “We couldn’t do it alone, we needed a lot of people – a village, so to speak. It was a very easy fundraising project to sell because people realize that a stroke is a very serious matter and they felt that this would help tremendously.”

The creation of the stroke unit is a game-changer for an urgent situation where time is of the essence: the sooner a stroke is treated, the greater the chance of reversal.

Joining the Board of Directors of the JGH Foundation

The stroke unit was just the beginning of Davis’ work with the JGH Foundation. She became a member of the Board of Directors in 2013 and later joined the Fundraising Projects Review Committee.

“For me personally, what I find the most challenging is finding viable, workable solutions so that everybody is satisfied,” Davis said of her work on the committee. “Based on the Foundation’s annual budget, our aim is, wherever possible, to respond to the hospital’s many funding requests, to the best of our committee’s ability, keeping within our mandate and the Foundation’s available funds.”

Co-chairing the Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP)

Around the time Davis joined the board of the JGH Foundation, her elderly mother suffered from bouts of delirium when she was hospitalized. She had lost many of her friends and struggled with loneliness.

“My mom would say that seniors are the forgotten generation,” Davis said. “How sad it was to hear a woman who’d been so active her whole life, and so involved in the community, say she was the forgotten generation.”

After years of decline, her mother passed away in the summer of 2014 at 102 years old. Davis didn’t want to see anyone suffer as her mother had suffered in her last years.

“I promised myself that if I could avoid that for other people, then that’s what I would do,” Davis said.

It didn’t take long for an opportunity to materialize: Danyael Cantor, Principal Director of Development at the JGH Foundation, and Maxine Lithwick, Director of Social Services at the JGH, asked Rona whether she would be willing to chair a program called the Hospital Elder Life Program (HELP).

HELP is a structured program that is used in some hospitals across the world. It is the first successful program of its kind in the province of Quebec. The overarching goal is to maintain the cognitive and physical functioning of high-risk seniors in hospitals. It is supported by trained volunteers who carry out non-clinical interventions to stimulate mental, physical and social well-being.

“I didn’t hesitate for a second,” Davis said. Alice Raby and Nan Lassner soon joined as co-chairs to support the fundraising efforts for HELP.

Davis became an instant champion of the HELP program at the JGH. She met with Dr. Ruby Friedman, the Associate Director of Geriatric Medicine, to discuss a strategy for volunteer recruitment and retention. They resolved to approach universities to find participants.

“The volunteer McGill students took to this program so thoroughly and completely that McGill management from the Occupational Therapy and Physical Therapy departments got interested in it,” Davis said. “We formed a wonderful co-partnership together.”

When the pandemic hit, volunteers were no longer permitted in the hospital. It was a difficult time for elderly patients, who were sorely lacking stimulation and company. The program was adapted to TeleHELP via Zoom for three months.

For Davis, seeing the impact of the program on elderly patients is very gratifying.

“The effect [on patients] is tremendous,” Davis said. “It’s absolutely incredible. You can’t believe it until you see it happen. Since doing their work with the elderly at the Jewish, many students have adopted a whole new positive perspective on working with seniors in their career.”

A long-time community volunteer

Davis has been an active volunteer in Montreal since the mid-1970s. She has served on the Board and volunteered at many educational organizations including the Jewish Peoples and Peretz School, Lower Canada College and Trafalgar High School. She has also been a board member with the Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and of Tel Aviv University. In addition, Davis joined the board of the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors Foundation.

Her hard work hasn’t gone unrecognized. The JGH Foundation awarded Davis with the Outstanding Service Award in 2020 in recognition of the countless hours she put into the hospital and its Foundation. It was given for her exemplary service as a board member, member of the Grants Committee, Fundraiser, Founding Chair and champion of HELP, and for her tireless devotion to the Foundation.

For Davis, all of the time she dedicates to the community is time well-spent.

“I get great pleasure from being a volunteer,” Davis said humbly. “You derive far more from it than you give.”