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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Horizon Lauds “Hidden Heroes”

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Several Horizon Elder Caregiver Award nominees attended a May 4 award ceremony.
North Adams- The selflessness of caring for elderly loved ones and friends was clearly defined during a May 4 caregiver award ceremony: the award winner missed the event because she was providing care.

Horizon Caregiver Award Winner

City resident Shirley Jean Lee was named as the Horizon caregiver of the year during the First Annual Elder Caregiver Award event held at the Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice of Northern Berkshires on Curran Highway. Lee’s nomination came from her husband, Howard S. Lee, for whom she provides care. But he is not the only person to benefit from his wife’s compassion and assistance, according to his written nomination. Shirley Lee, known as Jean, lends her hands and her heart to others during Howard Lee’s hospital stays, he said.

“Jean does the majority of the work that I can no longer do,” Howard Lee wrote. “She has befriended a 45-year-old Down’s Syndrome patient who calls her ‘my pretend mom.’ Jean often times will run errands for some of the patients that need snacks from the café, need something moved, or just someone to talk to. Of course she watches over me like a mother hen.”

Lee’s caring nature extends to her sister and brother-in-law and she provides assistance to them as well.

The Challenge, The Reward

“Community caregivers” are identified by the Horizon organization as those who serve family or friends. Caregivers may be family members or friends, and are often untrained in health care professions. Caregivers devote time and energy to fill numerous needs such as meal preparation, transportation, shopping, personal care, companionship, and other tasks. Caring for an ill family member or friend is “a uniquely human experience,” said John Merselis, a retired physician and Horizon advisory board member. The experience is very challenging and deeply rewarding, Merselis said during the ceremony.

The need for caregivers is growing, he said, and noted that the U.S. population is at about 280 million people, with the about 4 million people aged 85 or over now considered the fastest growing segment of the population. Nearly 80 percent of those who require some level of care live in their own homes or with family members, he said. And while those between age 65 and 85 comprise 13 percent of the total population, the same group receive one-third of all medically dispensed prescriptions, he said.

Caregivers are an invaluable component of elder health care, Merselis stressed.

“People need empathy, understanding and assistance, and that is what caregiving is all about,” he said.

Horizon Chairwoman Beth Parker-O’Brien welcomed the over 40 audience members to the ceremony. REACH Community Health Foundation Vice-president of Operations Betty Chludzinski told the award nominees they are “hidden heroes.”

“My hat is off to you,” she said.

Partners in Caring

Northern Berkshire Healthcare CEO John Cronin shared his personal experiences as a caregiver, and his belief that professional health service providers and caregivers should develop partnerships.

“[Medical professionals] can’t do it alone,” he said. “And we probably shouldn’t do it alone. It is becoming clear by the way health care is emerging there will never be enough resources.”

Caregivers are a significant resource, he noted.

“If it’s in me over the next few years, I will tap into that resource,” he said.

Caregiver award nominees were presented with certificates and chocolate roses from the Chocolate Springs shop in Lenox. Lee will receive a plaque donated by the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge.

In addition to Lee, the award nominees were Bet Azar, Judy Bombardier, Isabelle “Bea” Grillone, Ester Herrick, Hellen Lusia, Regina Miner, Mabel Rogowski, Veronica Sobon, and Phyllis Stone.

Horizon is a REACH foundation program focused on caregivers “so that they can help loved ones more appropriately and comprehensively deal with elders coping with acute and chronic illness,” according to information provided by Horizon. A multi-resource Caregiver Lending Library has been established at the David and Joyce Milne Public Library in Williamstown. Information about Horizon is available at 413-664-5326.

Susan Bush may be reached at 802-823-9367 or by e-mail at suebush123@adelphia.net.
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