Chair, Trustee Advisory Board
With a history of dedication to Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) that spans more than 20 years, Ellen Calmas is an inspiration to the hospital’s community. We sat down with her to hear about her time as a supporter and advocate for the medical center. Learn more about Ellen’s dedication to lifelong learning, her approach to philanthropy, and what she finds meaningful about BIDMC in this issue’s Leadership Spotlight.
You have been a board member at BIDMC for a remarkable 15 years, but you and your family were involved well before that. How do you characterize your relationship with the hospital?
Above all, I am very much a grateful patient. I have gained so much life from my time at BIDMC through exceptional medical care and the people I have met and interacted with. When you’re lucky enough to have positive experiences, particularly as they affect your health, then you look for ways to give back. Participation on various boards and in community outreach has been deeply gratifying for me.
The hospital has developed and changed over time. Is there anything that has not changed?
There is so much intelligence here in the people walking through the medical center halls. So much innovation and achievement. It’s humbling. BIDMC has always been known for truly compassionate care, and that is what distinguishes us. “Where extraordinary lives” is more than just a tagline. You feel it when you’re here. You know this medical center is different and special.
Historically, Beth Israel Hospital was formed to create greater access to quality medical care for the local Jewish population. It has grown to broaden its care to the entire community, and beyond. But that history is meaningful to me. When you look at the names on our buildings and all the people on our boards who are ambassadors in the community, it’s meaningful. Some have been serving BIDMC for generations, and today, are bringing the next generation along. That, to me, is terrific. Boston is blessed with really wonderful institutions, but institutions truly stand out because of the caring people who are involved with them, with BIDMC at the forefront.
Sarah Calmas (left) and Ellen Calmas (right) at the BIDMC Annual Meeting in 2023
As Chair of the Trustee Advisory Board, you have many key responsibilities. What is the one responsibility closest to your heart?
One of my roles, and this is true for any of us who are ambassadors in the community, is to help encourage other potential donors. No matter the size of the gift, our duty is to help them to recognize where their money goes and how it helps make an impact. I love to share the incredible feeling that you get from giving back and helping BIDMC thrive.
If you speak to any of our amazing physicians, the most important question you can ask is simply, “How can I help you? What can I do to support your work?” What I have found is that physicians can be shy to ask, but are ever so grateful to be asked. One goal of mine over time is to enhance that dialogue between physicians and patients—we all have a role in that. That conversation is often where philanthropy starts.
In addition to your many contributions on the board, you are a generous donor. What motivates you to give?
During the COVID-19 pandemic, my husband Richard and I decided to recognize the dedicated nurses, doctors, and staff whose lives were upended during that time. They showed courage and compassion; they stayed by patient bedsides when families could not. When we were asked to have our building support go toward thanking those staff for their sacrifices, we were happy to be a part of the effort to name the Healthcare Heroes ICU. We wanted to demonstrate in our support of the new building that contributing is not about just bricks and mortar, it’s about sustaining community and continuing to ensure patients receive the very best care.
My father, who was extremely devoted to the medical center and other great Boston institutions, taught our family several lessons about philanthropy. One lesson that stands out is that while it’s tempting to remain anonymous with our giving, it’s important to stand up and be counted—it’s important to put your name on a gift because it becomes motivational to others who are considering a gift as well. So that’s what we’ve done and hope to continue doing in the future.
What advice would you give to someone looking to get involved at BIDMC?
I would say feel comfortable about scheduling an informal, no-obligation get together with Kevin McAteer and the philanthropy team at BIDMC to find out more about the medical center and what area or areas feel right for personal engagement. I’m always impressed with the professionalism of our philanthropy staff, who are willing to cultivate relationships over time so that giving feels good—like it should. I’m also happy to schedule a call or coffee to answer questions.
At BIDMC, we have a tremendously bright, caring, and generous community. We bring people together as a family and as friends to coalesce around our medical center’s mission. And we do it really, really well. I’m just very proud to be a part of all that.