When Valerie Cirucci moved from Ocean City to Mays Landing this past year, she felt it was time to put her 8-year volunteering career at Shore Medical Center behind her. She loved volunteering, but the commute to work the front desk at 8 AM would be too much from her new home. Little did she know that before she could officially ‘retire’ from her volunteer work at Shore, she’d be recruited for a new project, one that would require a volunteer just like her: The Center for Family Caregivers.
How it Began
Lisa DiTroia oversees the volunteer program at Shore, and several others. She attended a conference in 2014, where she heard from the founders of the Ken Hamilton Family Caregivers Center at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mt. Kisco, NY. Their center was the first of its kind, and serves as a resource for individuals providing care for ailing family members or friends. The center helps caregivers navigate the healthcare system, learn how to perform medical/nursing tasks, and juggle caretaking and family life while maintaining their own sense of well-being. The center also helps other hospitals who want to replicate the model. Lisa felt it was exactly the thing Shore Medical Center needed.
As one of only 80 Planetree Designated Patient-Centered Care hospitals in the world, Shore Medical Center is committed to caring for each patient as a whole person, in body, mind and spirit. Recognizing that family members of patients are also deeply affected by their loved one’s circumstances, Lisa believed setting up a center that provides services to those loved ones was a natural next step for the organization. When she returned from the conference, she got to work right away putting together a steering committee and pitching it to Shore’s senior leadership team. Eventually, the project was approved and a center was dedicated in the lower level of the hospital.
Finding the Right People
To help families faced with such complex challenges, the volunteer-run center would need to be staffed with people who understood the circumstances these families were facing. Valerie had been a family caregiver for her very young grandson who had multiple medical and developmental issues, and for her mother.
“Hearing about the new project at Shore really moved me,” Cirucci said. “My grandson died when he was five, but was a gift all of those five years. The Sunshine Foundation helped us a great deal. They support children with special needs and their families, and provided us with a special stroller for him. I vowed that someday I would give back to others in that way. When I heard about the Caregiver Center, it was exactly what I wanted to do,” Cirucci said. She immediately agreed to go through the Caregiver Coach training, and officially began her new role on December 5.
A Rewarding Experience
Although Valerie is very outgoing and at ease with people, she admittedly felt a bit nervous heading out onto Shore Medical Center’s 5th Hayes Floor to visit with family members for the first time. After all, she was meeting people in their most vulnerable moments, when their whole world had been turned upside down. But soon after her first shift started, she felt an overwhelming sense of purpose as family after family embraced Valerie and the resources she and the Caregiver Center offered.
“When you’re first faced with the possibility of becoming a caregiver for your loved one, you don’t even know what questions to ask,” Cirucci said. “That’s exactly what we’re here for – to give them a starting point and a place to turn. We’re there throughout the process to help them avoid becoming overwhelmed emotionally, financially, and physically. Sometimes, that all begins with simply a hug and the reassurance that someone is looking out for them.”
Challenges of Providing Care
“When someone you love needs you, you’ll do more than you ever thought possible to help them,” Cirucci says. “But it is important to make sure you care for yourself, too. I saw with my daughter and grandson. She would do anything for her child to make his life better. He needed to be on a gluten-free diet, and since this was before there was a market for gluten-free products, she’d make everything herself. It’s hard work, but you never give up. And that can take a toll on you.”
According to the AARP Public Policy Institute’s report, Valuable the Invaluable: 2015 Update, family caregivers in the U.S. provided 37 billion hours of care – worth an estimated $470 billion – to their parents, spouses, partners and other adult loved ones in 2013. New Jersey is among the top ten states with the most caregivers: 1.12 million in 2013.
The report also revealed the impact caregiving has on a family member. More than half of family caregivers report being overwhelmed by the amount of care their family member needs. In 2014, the majority of family caregivers had full- or part-time jobs on top of their role.
Shore’s Center for Family Caregivers
DiTroia is excited about the opportunities the center will offer first to Shore patients and their families, and later to members of the community.
“Right now our Caregiver Coaches are focusing on introducing the center to families on patient units. It is also open to the community and serves as a resource for anyone going through the challenges of caregiving,” Di Troia says. “Since every person’s situation is unique, we’ll work with them to connect them to resources and services that can be of help. As we grow, we will be adding support groups, classes, and much more.”
Shore Medical Center’s Center for Family Caregivers is open Monday through Friday, 9:30AM to 3:30PM. To learn more, visit http://www.shoremedicalcenter.org/center-for-family-caregivers or call 609-653-3969.