If you're going to be upstaged at a glitzy Victoria fundraiser, it might as well be by a bearded fat guy in a red suit.
"I had to park my own car!" joked Alan Lowe, laughingly lamenting a temporary lack of valet parking because Santa Claus and his parade had closed Government Street to traffic before a black-tie crowd filed into the Fairmont Empress on Nov. 17.
Lowe, vice-chairman of the Victoria Hospitals Foundation, joined hundreds of local philanthropists, business types and health-care leaders at its 22nd annual Visions gala. A record $458,000 was raised for the Royal Jubilee Hospital Patient Health Care Centre through proceeds from ticket sales, sponsors, live and silent auctions, donations, a pledge drive and a bear raffle.
Highlights included a stunning tapestry by Canadian figure skater and artist Toller Cranston; a lavish feast for 10 at Villa Marco Polo, and getaways to Maui and London.
"We're all getting older," laughed Lowe, explaining why health care remains a top priority.
Executive director Melanie McKenzie said Visions is the foundation's most prominent annual fundraiser.
"It's the one time of the year we ask everyone to really come together and celebrate all that hospitals mean to the community," she said, expressing gratitude to dozens of volunteers - from hospital staffers to community participants.
Astrid Braunschmidt, CTV Vancouver Island reporter and weather forecaster, said it was "an absolute honour" being asked to emcee.
"It does so much for so many people on so many different levels," she said. "To shine a light on our hospitals and the work the foundation does every single day is something CTV couldn't pass up."
Chaired by Dr. Dorothy (Sam) Williams, a geriatrician for Vancouver Island Health Authority, Visions was part of the foundation's fall campaign to fund the purchase of nine leading-edge medication dispensing cabinets for Royal Jubilee.
Colleen McGavin provided a patient's perspective on "medication error." The cancer survivor told her own story of how, in the recovery room at Royal Jubilee after day surgery, she was in severe discomfort and asked for pain medication.
"Unfortunately, it was the wrong medication or too much of the right medication," she said, recalling monitors began beeping and the nurse called her name and asked her to wiggle her toes. "Rather than waking up I was thrown back into a semi-conscious state."
Although caregivers are highly skilled and follow safety procedures, mistakes can occur.
"I think it's important to put a face to these issues," said McGavin, explaining what compelled her to help raise funds for dispensing units that "make it more or less fail-safe" as part of VIHA's new medication safety initiative.
"I think it's amazing they're dealing with this issue in such an up-front manner."
McKenzie said Visions helps ensure medical teams get the tools they need to do their jobs more safely and efficiently.
"It allows us to replace vital equipment faster than if we waited for the government alone," she said. "It's not that government won't do the things they need to do, but this is a way to make things happen a little faster."
Deane Strongitharm, the former VHF board chair who works with City Spaces Consulting, says Visions is like Christmas for him.
"Tomorrow I'll start to look forward to the following year's," he said. "It's Victoria's premier fundraising event in my opinion, but it also sets the stage for the Christmas season."
McKenzie concurred, adding Santa's drive-by "just adds that much more magic to the night."
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