When serious illness strikes, the costs go beyond medical expenses. There are lost wages. Extra childcare. Food, lodging and transportation. For many patients, the stress of these financial burdens can prevent them from focusing on what matters most: getting better.
Janet and Russ Rotter have seen the need first-hand. When Russ was diagnosed with an aggressive tumor beneath his vocal chords in 2000, the couple had to travel from their home in New Jersey to Manhattan for multiple surgeries and hospital stays. The experience opened their eyes to the number of families who faced financial instability while dealing with a serious health issue.
“We were fortunate, because we had a financial cushion,” Janet said. “But many patients don’t — so we started thinking about ways that we could help support them in their recovery.”
The opportunity presented itself when the couple relocated to Portland 14 years later. As they were settling into their new home, a postcard from OHSU happened to show up in the mail. “They were raising money for the Rood Family Pavilion,” Janet explained. “Russ handed me the card and said, ‘What about this?’”
After meeting with the Foundation, the Rotters made a sizeable contribution to help fund the Pavilion’s construction. Today, their name hangs over the entrance to the facility’s adult dining room.
“You don’t even realize you need social workers until you do. Then, you suddenly understand how indispensable they are.”Janet Rotter
Meet the Charlie Fund
With the Rood Family Pavilion completed, the couple started looking for other ways to help adult patients. Recalling all the assistance they’d received from hospital social workers during Russ’s recovery, they thought they’d donate to a fund that supports OHSU’s social services. That’s when they learned that such a fund didn’t exist. In their typical proactive fashion, Janet and Russ decided to start one — and with that, the Charlie Fund was born.
If you’re wondering about the fund’s namesake, Charlie is a friendly 6-year-old girl with a huge heart and a fiercely protective streak. She’s also a dog — Janet and Russ’s beloved white Swiss Shepherd, to be precise.
“Just as shepherd dogs watch over their flocks of animals, social workers watch over their ‘flocks’ of patients,” explained Russ. “If an adult patient is struggling to afford a basic expense, OHSU social workers can tap into the Charlie Fund to help cover it.”
Established in 2019, the fund has already been put to good use hundreds of times over.
“I remember there was a breast cancer patient and single mother who was released from the hospital during a big ice storm,” said Janet. “She had no way to get home, so the Charlie Fund put her up in a hotel for two nights. Without that sort of intervention, she might have ended up sleeping in the hospital lobby.”
In addition to their original multi-year commitment, the Rotters currently make monthly contributions to the endowment’s income fund so that OHSU social workers have additional money to work with while the endowment builds. There are also generous provisions in their wills to ensure that the Charlie Fund can continue to serve patients for generations to come.
While they’re taking a long-term approach, the Rotters say one of the most fulfilling things about the Charlie Fund is its immediate impact. “So much philanthropy is centered around big-bucks initiatives like an endowed chair or a new building,” said Russ. “With the Charlie Fund, the $100 you give today could have a significant impact in someone’s life the very next week.”
“To know that you’ve had a role in helping someone get better — well, I think that’s a pretty great feeling,” added Janet.
If you’d like to support the Charlie Fund, contact Liz Arrington at the OHSU Foundation or call 503-552-0716.