Outlook 2023: Leading philanthropic efforts supporting service, people, capital needs at Schenectady’s Ellis

A woman standing in a hallway smiling
Karen Mantis, vice president and executive director of the Foundation for Ellis Medicine
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SCHENECTADY – Famous names and familiar faces are framed inside the corridor that leads to The Foundation for Ellis Medicine in Schenectady.

Former Draper High School business education teacher Anna M. Bennett owns a spot in the wide hallway on the fourth floor of Ellis Hospital. So does Charles W. Carl Jr., longtime president of the string of department stores that once carried his family name.

Neil and Jane Golub are part of the distinguished group. Both are synonymous with the Golub Corporation, which owns the Price Chopper/Market 32 supermarket chain. Jane also was known for her work as an elementary school teacher.

Nan and Hugh Murphy are two more on the leader board — Hugh retired as vice president of General Electric Power Generation and served on the Ellis Hospital Board of Trustees.

All six — and the others immortalized on the wall — have been honored for their outstanding financial contributions to the foundation.

Karen E. Mantas is another familiar face, just down the corridor and inside offices that serve the Ellis philanthropic group. She joined the foundation as director of advancement in November 2007, and earlier this winter she became the organization’s vice president and executive director, succeeding Marcy Steiner.

Mantas, born and raised in Clifton Park, is clear about the foundation’s mission.

“We raise philanthropic support from the community to support the services, the people and the capital needs of Ellis Hospital,” she said during a recent interview. “Years ago, the capital needs would have come first, but it seems that more and more the trend in philanthropy has been for funders to want to support people.”

The response from the community has been positive. The foundation began its most recent drive, the five-year “Generations of Health Campaign,” in July 2020. As of January, Mantas said, $19.7 million had been raised — not far from the goal of $25 million.

The money will be used for cancer treatment, mental health and upgrades to Ellis operating rooms.

“We support the hospital’s capital budget,” Mantas said. “There’s a committee that meets and they decide what are the strategic needs of the hospital, what are the contingency needs.

“Maybe a piece of equipment broke down or it’s at its end of life and can’t be serviced anymore, and they have to invest in new,” Mantas added. “That’s what the hospital’s committee does, and then the foundation looks to support those needs.”

There are always needs.

“Right now we’re raising money for oncology, because we have that great partnership with Roswell Park,” Mantas said.

The Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center is a research and treatment center in Buffalo. Founded by surgeon Roswell Park in 1898, the center — usually referred to as just Roswell Park — provides advanced treatment for all forms of adult and pediatric cancer.

The partnership has placed Roswell medical oncologists on the Ellis staff.

“What that means is for cancer patients in the region, they don’t have to travel to Buffalo or Boston or New York City to have the highest level of cancer care,” Mantas said. “You have it right here in Schenectady now. So this program draws from all over — people from Plattsburgh only have to travel two hours.”

Mantas offered examples on the ways the foundation works.

Physicians use surgery, radiation and chemotherapy to treat cancer.

“The radiation therapy department, they use this technology, which is just incredible, and they can pinpoint with laser precision the tumor and keep all the tissue around the tumor healthy,” Mantas said.

“Their equipment was about 10 years old,” she added. “Medical technology changes and it gets so sophisticated so quickly. Philanthropy was able to fund a new linear accelerator. We brought that into service last year.”

The need was first discussed in 2016. Mantas said purchases and acquisitions can take some time; state approvals are sometimes required.

In another case, Ellis was moving its adult mental health clinic from downtown Schenectady to the intersection of Brandywine Avenue and State Street.

“Our goal was always to move the adolescent clinic and co-locate it at the same building,” Mantas said. “Philanthropy in 2021 fully funded the move, renovated the space and also paid for new staff for the adolescent clinic.

“Our goal was to expand our capacity,” Mantas added. “The wait list for children and adolescents was like six months or longer. In our current space, we knew we couldn’t add more providers, so we needed a bigger space and then we could chop away at that wait list.

“Philanthropy made this beautiful facility possible for these kids, with everything from sensory therapies to more providers. We funded the salaries for one year and we were able to cut down the wait list for care.”

Mantas has worked with people and conducted fundraising campaigns throughout her career. She graduated from The College of Saint Rose in Albany in 1986.

As director of development and resources for the Capital District YMCA, she ran the Y’s annual campaign. That meant engaging hundreds of volunteers from branches throughout the region.

“It created a great opportunity for me to learn campaigns,” Mantas said.

Later, as director of development and communications for Parsons Child & Family Center from 2000 until 2007, Mantas’ duties included oversight of fundraising efforts.

At Ellis, individuals — such as those saluted on the foundation’s distinguished donor wall — corporations and foundations all contribute. They donate for a simple reason.

“They believe this community needs access to quality health care services close to home,” Mantas said.

While some people write large checks, others make smaller contributions. They give what they can.

“There are a lot of people who give because of a relational situation, a lot of people who give because of a personal situation and a lot of people who give because they believe the community needs these services,” Mantas said.

She and her team — the foundation is a five-person unit, including the director — strive to engage the community. Mantas said Paul Milton, Ellis’ president and chief executive officer, also works closely with the foundation.

“That’s our job, to be out meeting with donors,” Mantas said. “There was a period when Zoom [the computer-based meeting program that became ubiquitous during the pandemic] was our way of meeting with donors. But the doors are opening up, and more and more folks are getting a little bit more comfortable meeting out for coffee.

“Sometimes volunteers help to open the doors for us, so in a campaign like the one we’re in, there’s a whole volunteer structure to it,” Mantas added. “The goal with the volunteers is to help us and be advocates for Ellis.”

Mantas said the foundation did “very well” during weeks and months when COVID-19 kept many people inside their homes and away from social situations.

“People were extremely generous, but more so compassionate about all the caregivers,” Mantas said. “Folks that we didn’t even have a relationship with reached out and said, ‘We want to do this.’

The food alone — the meals they provided, three shifts a day, multiple departments a day.

“We had a woman in the office, she was our food guru,” Mantas added. “Her job was to coordinate all the donations because we were all taking calls, we didn’t know who was getting what. There were controls needed and we had to coordinate it within the hospital.”

While the community reached out to the foundation and hospital during the hard days of the pandemic, the foundation has always found ways to reach out to the community. The group sponsors four major events each year:

  • The Gala will be held June 3 at Rivers Casino & Resort.
  • The Ellis Pro-Am Golf Tournament will take place July 10 at Mohawk Golf Club.
  • Women’s Day Out, an educational forum and luncheon that will include presentation of the Jane Golub Leadership in Women’s Health Award, will be held in October.
  • The Cardiac Classic road races will be held Nov. 23 — Thanksgiving — at Central Park.

“All of our events are friend-raisers and fundraisers,” Mantas said.

Other plans to benefit both the hospital and general public are in the works. The “Ellis Promise” project is designed to recruit a workforce from within the community.

“We’re beta testing it in the city of Schenectady and Schenectady High School,” Mantas said, adding that Ellis has 18 job categories — positions that require high school diplomas. Grant funds will allow Ellis to hire recruiters and success coaches.

“If you have a high school diploma from Schenectady High School, we have a job for you,” Mantas said.

As she begins her tenure as foundation director, Mantas thanks the people who once led the group.

“I had two incredible mentors before me here,” she said. “Marcy Steiner was phenomenal, Suzann Smart was awesome and they mentored me. They were great role models.”

Mantas possesses key attributes for her work — communication skills and the ability to get along with people.

“You’re a good listener, you’re respectful and you’re compassionate,” she said. “If you don’t have those things, people can see right through you.”

Any donation the foundation receives is appreciated.

“Every gift is valuable,” Mantas said. “There’s a reason people want to give, and it’s making the connections with them and hearing their stories that make the job so wonderful.”

Karen E. Mantas
COMPANY: The Foundation for Ellis Medicine
TITLE: Vice president/executive director
EDUCATION: The College of Saint Rose
BEST LESSON IN BUSINESS: “Embrace imperfection; growth is messy, and every day is a new opportunity.”
WORDS TO LIVE BY: “Be a leader, not a follower.”

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Categories: Life and Arts, Life and Arts, Outlook 2023, Schenectady

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