24 Jul 2017
When Marian Hamilton’s husband Ken was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2002, she was immediately thrust into the role of caregiver. Before passing away two years later, Ken had been well taken care of in four different hospitals but, says Marian, “Nobody cared about my well-being. I gained 20 pounds and went on anti-depressants,” while also dealing with two teenage daughters.
Marian was so profoundly affected by the experience that she was determined to make sure others didn’t have to go through the same thing. She dreamed of a place for families to go within the hospital setting: an oasis where they could take care of themselves, get counseling and support, and help to navigate the complexities of the medical world. She approached a few hospitals and in 2005, with Marian guiding the way, Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco recognized these types of much-needed services were missing from their healthcare ecosystem.
Since the hospital was unable to fund such a program, a partnership with the community was needed. Almost immediately, a private grant was made available for Marian to create the Ken Hamilton Caregivers Center, which now occupies a set of rooms off the main lobby of the hospital, where caregivers can go to recharge: grab a cup of coffee or tea, de-stress in the massage chair, find referral information, meet with a coach, or simply relax in a home-like setting.
The Caregivers Center started with three volunteers or “coaches.” Referrals started right away, and the team began helping with complicated discharges, advising families about advance directives and living wills, functioning as an extra set of ears for meetings with physicians and care teams, and simply being there for caregivers to lean on. Most recently, they’ve begun a “Stay in Touch” program to follow caregivers after they’ve returned home. There are also free monthly support groups at the hospital. The Center still relies completely on philanthropy to exist as all services are provided free of charge.
Today, there are 30 coaches. Rhonda Moll volunteers as a coach – giving back to the community after using the Center when she successfully donated a kidney to her then-ailing husband four years ago.
The Center is also on a mission to propagate. Replication Coordinator Jill Gottlieb is tasked with recruiting other hospitals to create these types of centers. Eleven other hospitals around the country now have their own caregivers centers – with the guidance of Marian and Jill, who provide them with a start-up kit of sorts. In Westchester, White Plains Hospital and Westchester Medical Center are each on board.
Marian defers to former First Lady Roslyn Carter as the person who has best described the importance of taking care of the tens of millions of Americans caring for a loved one – many of whom forgo paid work and jeopardize their own mental and physical health for extended periods of time: “There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.”
Says Marian, “It still touches me every day – it’s a reminder of how powerful that journey is.”
For more information about becoming a caregiver coach, call the Center at 914-242-8128.