July 29 Dave Keller Concert Features Barbecue by Stagecoach

Stagecoach community barbecueGifford Medical Center and the White River Valley Chamber of Commerce have been partnering all summer to offer a free Tuesday concert series to the community.

On July 29 Stagecoach Transportation Services Inc. joins the effort with a special community barbecue to accompany music by the renowned Dave Keller Band, a Vermont blues and soul group followed around the region and beyond.

Both the barbecue and free concert start at 6 p.m. The barbecue is “by donation” and Stagecoach’s thank you to the community for its support.

Stagecoach recently completed a $40,000 fund-raising campaign to meet its fiscal year 2014 budget.

“We are so appreciative of this community’s generosity in helping us end the year in the black as well as their ongoing support,” said Stagecoach Executive Director Jim Moulton. “This gathering will be a wonderful time to celebrate community spirit.”

Donations from the July 29 barbecue will go toward Stagecoach’s new fiscal year budgetary goals. Stagecoach staff and volunteer board members will be on hand to share information about the local non-profit community transportation provider and its services. A bus will also be onsite for community members to climb aboard and view.

The celebration also includes the concert series’ weekly farmers’ market.

Spectators are encouraged to bring a lawn chair or picnic blanket, and family and friends.

The concerts continue Tuesdays at 6 p.m. with bluegrass from The Trail Blaizers on Aug. 5 and then Two for the Show & Company on Aug. 12 playing song standards and classics.

Now in its third year, the 2014 Community Concert Series is sponsored by Gillespie Fuels and Propane, the Frankenburg Agency and the Gifford Medical Center Auxiliary.

Employee Anniversaries

The following is an excerpt from our 2013 Annual Report: A Recipe for Success.

employee awards banquetAt this year’s annual Employee Awards Banquet, the following employees were honored for their years of dedication and service to Gifford and its patients.

(Employees are honored on their 5-, 10-, 15-, etc., year anniversaries.)

5 years
Jenell Archer
Angela Bailey
Christie Blodgett
Elizabeth Britch
Sheri Brown
Kristine Day
Peggy Eaccarino
Kate Fellows
Angela Fletcher
Ginny Giles
Jan Giles
Cindy Gurdak
Vera Jones
Brittany Kelton
Sarah Larmie
Laura Larrabee
Peter Loescher
Heidi McClellan
Melinda Mercier
Jamie Miller
Kim Nelson
Shane Parks
Kathleen Riley
Fern Rogers
Brian Sargent
Megan Sault
Joel Schumacher
Jackie Sprague
Melissa Thayer
Scott Warren
Lisa Woods

10 years
Julie Arms
Gail Bourassa
Patrice Conard
Cindy Duval
James Kirkpatrick
Judy Libby
Terry MacDougal
Joe Pelletier
Dan Pritchard
Rob Rinaldi
Sandi Standish

15 years
Kim Connolly
Donna Ferris
Tara Fitzpatrick
Ronda Flaherty
Tina Grant
Beryl McPhetres
Michele Packard
Kim Summers

20 years
Tom Carter
Darlene Doyle
Marc Fournier
Rosalie Knowles
Kevin McNamara
Deanna Mitchell
Sue Molinario
Melanie Munyon
Bonnie Pettit
Karen Sargent
Starr Strong

25 years
Bonnie Hervieux-Woodbury
Kathy MacAskill
Pam Overstrom
Gail Proctor
Laudell Slack

35 years
Marcia Eaton
Karen Lagro

40 years
Maureen Heyder

Gifford Midwifery Team Holding Open House

Gifford midwifery team

Gifford’s 24-hour midwifery team includes, from left, certified nurse-midwives Meghan Sperry, Maggie Gardner, April Vanderveer and Kathryn Saunders. (Photo provided)

Gifford’s renowned midwifery team is holding an open house to introduce its recently expanded team to the community and offer some free health advice.

Gifford’s certified nurse-midwives, Kathryn Saunders, Meghan Sperry, Maggie Gardner and April Vanderveer, will hold an open house on Thursday, July 24 from 4-7 p.m. in The Family Center beside Gifford Ob/Gyn and Midwifery off South Main Street in Randolph.

All are welcome, especially those expecting a baby, thinking of planning a family or interested in women’s health.

The open house will be an opportunity to meet the midwives, tour the Birthing Center (if it is not too full with new babies and families) and receive expert advice. In addition to the midwives, lactation consultant and childbirth educator Nancy Clark will be on hand to talk breastfeeding, child development and more. And, for those who are expecting, Gifford Vice President of Patient Care Services (and photographer) Alison White will be offering belly photos.

There will also be balloons for the kids, giveaways, refreshments and door prizes, including a belly casting kit, baby product basket, a yoga gift certificate generously donated by Fusion Studio of Montpelier and a one-hour massage generously donated Massages Professionals of Randolph.

“We’re enthusiastic for this support from Fusion Studio and Massage Professionals of Randolph, and we’re excited to introduce our team to the community. We are like-minded caregivers committed to offering women and families an experience that meets their desires and goals, while also resulting in safe and healthy pregnancies and babies,” said Sperry.

Stop by to meet the midwives and to learn more about women’s health. Call Gifford Ob/Gyn and Midwifery at 728-2401 to learn more.

3rd Annual Community Concert Series Starts July 8 at Gifford

South Royalton Band

The South Royalton Band plays in the Gifford park in 2012.

Gifford Medical Center and the White River Valley Chamber of Commerce once again are partnering – with the help of area sponsors – to offer a summer concert series for six consecutive weeks.

Held each Tuesday at 6 p.m. in the Gifford park on Route 12 south of the downtown, the 3rd Annual Community Concert Series will begin on July 8 with the South Royalton Band. The series continues on July 15 with Jeanne & The Hi-Tops performing old time rock and roll, on July 22 with Jennings & McComber offering Green Mountain indie folk and on July 29 with blues and soul from The Dave Keller Band.

South Royalton Band

The South Royalton Band opened the very first concert in 2012 in Gifford’s then-new park.

In August will be The Trail Blaizers, a bluegrass band, and Two for the Show and Company singing song standards and classics.

This year’s concert series features a couple of new elements. A farmers’ market will be held each week with farm products, crafts, handmade goods and more. And on July 29 Stagecoach will host a barbecue fund-raiser as part of the evening’s events.

All concerts are generously brought to the community for free thanks to sponsorships from Gillespie Fuels & Propane Inc., the Frankenburg Agency Inc. and the Gifford Auxiliary.

Everyone is welcome to attend. Participants are encouraged to bring lawn chairs, picnic blankets, family and friends.

The concerts are weather dependent and may be canceled or rescheduled in the event of rain. Look for updates on Gifford’s and the Chamber’s Web sites and their Facebook pages. Cancellations will also be noted with signage near the park.

Call 728-2339 to learn more, including how to become a vendor. There is no vendor fee. Vendors may come when they’re able or all summer long during the concerts.

South Royalton Band

This season, the South Royalton Band opens the 3rd Annual Community Concert Series.

Project Independence Finds New Life in Gifford

Project Independence

Project Independence participants, from left, Marie, Diana and Kathy dance to singing and music by a visiting Chris Beltrami (not shown).

BARRE – The state’s first adult day center, Project Independence, got its start in Barre in 1975 when a nursing home activity director, Lindsey Wade, recognized an opportunity to do things better and more cost effectively.

Wade encountered nursing home residents who didn’t seem to medically belong there. Others were visiting the nursing home daily for the social interaction. Wade had an idea. The area needed an adult day care and not a medical model adult day, but a social model – something that didn’t exist anywhere else in the country.

An active board and an interested city brought to life Project Independence on Washington Street and in the decades since, its model has not only flourished but expanded statewide. There are currently 14 adult day programs in Vermont.

Project Independence

Project Independence Executive Director Dee Rollins visits with participants, from left, Flo, Gail, Beverly and Shirley as they wait to be served a home-cooked lunch that included baked macaroni and cheese and flavorful carrots.

Today’s Project Independence serves 23 towns in Washington and northern Orange counties, welcoming an average 38 seniors and the disabled each weekday. The project includes meals, showers, medication management and ample activities, allowing them a fun and safe day care experience while also allowing them to stay at home – a far more affordable model than nursing home care.

But statewide adult days are struggling. Funding available for adult days almost guarantees failure. “The Adult Day financial model is not a successful one,” says Project Independence Executive Director Dee Rollins. “It’s a continued struggle to support our model.”

And Project Independence has had some recent extra hurdles.

It bought a North Main Street location and moved in 2010. Less than a year later, in May of 2011, the building flooded during a period of torrential rains that had storm water draining through a bulkhead into the building’s basement causing $295,000 in damages and losses. The following summer a sewer hookup issue during Barre’s “Big Dig” caused backups and additional damages and losses.

Project Independence

Gifford licensed nursing assistant Penny Severance helps Project Independence participant, Maddie, to her table for lunch.

Between those losses and looming health care reform that promises changes to health care funding and encourages health care relationships, small, standalone Project Independence began looking for help in the form of a partner. It found it in Gifford Health Care in Randolph.

A merger
Project Independence of Barre and the Gifford Retirement Community, part of Gifford Health Care in Randolph, will merge at the conclusion of Gifford’s fiscal year on Sept. 30. Boards for the two nonprofit organizations unanimously agreed to the merger in May after studying the relationship for more than a year.

It will be a full asset merger with Project Independence retaining its name, location and fund-raising dollars. Project Independence’s board will become an advisory board to provide local perspective and experience, and employees will become part of Gifford, opening the door to enhanced benefits. Project Independence will benefit from Gifford’s staff, from financial to billing to nursing help, as well as its buying power as a larger organization.

For Project Independence it is an opportunity for financial stability and more amidst what have been a stormy couple of years and the projected financial changes under health care reform. For Gifford, it is an opportunity to further its work to support seniors and to partner with a reputable organization.

“It’s the right thing. It’s the right match. We have the right partner,” says Rollins, who was drawn to Gifford because it has its own adult day, the Gifford Adult Day Program in Bethel, shares a mission of supporting seniors and because of the Randolph hospital’s commitment to community.

Project Independence

Tammy Mattote, left, a licensed nursing assistant at Project Independence in Barre, serves participant Joanne lunch.

Gifford is currently building a senior living community in Randolph Center that will include a new nursing home and independent and assisted living units after seeing a need in the community for these services.

The Randolph medical center also already has services in the Barre area in the form of a health center off the Airport Road in Berlin. The Gifford Health Center at Berlin is home to family medicine, pediatrics, internal medicine, infectious disease, midwifery, orthopedics, podiatry, neurology and urology services.

“The combination of the two of us makes a lot of common sense and a lot of business sense,” Project Independence Board Chairman Steve Koenemann said, calling his board’s vote a very easy one to make and the plan “a no-lose proposition.”

“The goal is try to see the program grow,” Koenemann said. “We don’t want to change Project Independence. It has nearly 40 years of experience and reputation serving that community that’s not something that you want to back away from.”

“It’s not taking away anything from Project. It’s all additions,” added Rollins.

Gifford employees have already been providing support to Project Independence over the last year as the two organizations have carefully studied a merger.

Project Independence

Project Independence staff pose in front of the North Main Street adult day center in Barre. The center will merge with Gifford Health Care in Randolph this fall.

“When someone has a humble request for help as it relates to the delivery of health care services, we take that seriously,” said Gifford Administrator Joseph Woodin, praising Project Independence’s board, values, volunteers and hardworking team. “For us, that’s extraordinarily appealing and we’re thankful that they’ve asked us.”

“We feel this is an honor that they asked,” agreed Linda Minsinger, Gifford Retirement Community executive director. “This is the right thing to do. It’s really important that these participants have a place that will carry on.”

Joining with Project Independence is in keeping with Gifford’s mission and providing support to a needed service that will no doubt grow as the state looks for more affordable ways to care for a growing senior population, said Gifford Board Chairman Gus Meyer.

“When you’re a very small organization, you don’t have the staff to do all of the different things to be done. It’s extremely difficult and it’s extremely draining to make an organization of that size successful. They’ve done a great job of keeping their organization alive in the face of huge challenges and at the same time provided a great service,” Meyer said. “A larger organization is much more able to absorb things that just come up. If there’s some facilities’ damage, it doesn’t become devastating.”

That is a scenario that has Project Independence breathing a sigh of relief.

“We are just all so encouraged. This just brings a true breath of fresh hope,” Rollins said. “We’re dancing in the streets.”

Well, maybe in the living room.

Project Independence participants – most of whom think of their home away from home as “the club” not an adult day center – let up a cheer upon hearing the news from Rollins that “the club” would merge with Gifford.

Staff members, who have been part of what have been very transparent discussions, were equally enthusiastic.

Cook Pam Bresette of South Barre said, “I think it’s going to be fabulous.”

Office Administrator Sue Catto of Barre took her job a year ago knowing positive changes were coming.

Licensed nursing assistant Amanda Koledo of Barre hopes to go to nursing school. Gifford provides tuition reimbursement.

Koledo has worked at Project Independence for six years. “I think it’s so exciting,” she said. “We’re on an island and we’ll now have life jackets.”

Bethel Artist Janet Hayward Burnham Coming to Gifford Gallery

Bethel acrylic artist Janet Hayward Burnham

“Long May She Wave” is one of Bethel acrylic artist Janet Hayward Burnham’s pieces in the Gifford Medical Center art gallery in Randolph from May 28 through June 25.

Artist and author Janet Hayward Burnham brings her acrylic and pen and ink works to the Gifford Medical Center art gallery from May 28 through June 25.

Burnham, now of Bethel, was born in Indiana, but never lived there. She went on to live in nine other states, attending 14 schools from kindergarten through college.

Burnham came to Vermont in 1968 with her husband and four children. They bought a farm in the Champlain Valley in Orwell, where Burnham taught art for a number of years and also wrote for Vermont Life.

Burnham was 42 when she graduated with a bachelor’s in fine arts from Castleton State College in 1979. “ … my two teenaged daughters – seated in the crowd – made me grin when they cheered as my name was called out at the graduation ceremonies,” Burnham recalls.

Art was Burnham’s first love.

“I think I’ve loved the art of making art since I picked up my first crayon,” she says. “Art was always my favorite class, bar none … even better than recess.”

She added the written word to her list of loves, and talents, in college.

Castleton was Burnham’s third college. Earlier at Columbia University in New York City in the late 1950s, while married and pregnant, an English professor first brought to light Burnham’s talent. He tasked the class with a first writing assignment. “When he passed the papers back two weeks later, he said we had all done fairly well, but there was one that was so outstanding, he was going to read it to the class. When he began reading, I was absolutely dumbfounded. It was mine. In all those schools I had attended – and some were excellent private schools – nobody ever told me I had a gift for working with words,” Burnham recalls.

“I now had two creative loves – art and the art of words.”

A poetry book Burnham wrote and illustrated, “A Week Ago Cat,” is the combination of those two loves.

Her show features illustrations and poems from the children’s book as well as other more adult pieces, and the book will be for sale in Gifford’s Gift Shop.

In addition to her book of poems, Burnham has been published in Yankee, Grit, The Boston Globe, The New York Daily News, Country Journal, Instructor, The Rutland Business Journal, The Herald of Randolph, and Woman’s World. She also penned two novels published in the United Kingdom that went on to editions in Sweden, Norway and the United States.

More recently, she helped research and was the lone writer of a book for The Bethel Historical Society titled “Vermont’s Elusive Architect George H. Guernsey.”

See Burnham’s unique art in the Gifford Galley. The show is free and open to the public. The Gifford Gallery is just inside the main entrance of the Randolph hospital at 44 S. Main St. Call Gifford at (802) 728-2324 for more information.

A New Home for All Rehabilitation, Billing

occupational therapist Ann Brunelle

This article was featured in our Spring 2014 Update Community Newsletter.

The Kingwood Health Center in Randolph underwent an expansion in the fall that both improved the Route 66 health center and freed up needed space at Gifford’s downtown campus.

The addition was completed in November and over the winter several Gifford departments made the move to the impressive, new space. Those departments included:

  • Occupational and speech therapies, which joined outpatient physical therapy on the ground floor of Kingwood
  • Billing
  • Accounting

The move of occupational and speech therapies creates a full-spectrum, multidisciplinary rehabilitation center at Kingwood. Added is some gym space, six new exam rooms and improved staff areas.

“Everyone loves the new building,” notes Megan Sault, the rehabilitation department’s operations coordinator.

Having all rehabilitation services in one, convenient location has reduced confusion among patients as to where they should go for their appointment and allows for a collaborative approach to care.

“It’s really great to be so close to team members and share this beautiful facility,” says speech therapist Kathy Carver, who on the day we visited was meeting with patient Terry White of Randolph Center. Terry, who had a stroke, had also seen physical therapy that day, allowing him to make just one trip to Kingwood, and allowing collaboration on Terry’s care.

For others the new location near Interstate 89 is just convenient.

Occupational therapy patient Michael Dempsey of Brookfield was recovering from a broken arm that had left him with shoulder pain. “It’s nice, got a lot of room and is closer to my house. It’s convenient,” Michael remarked.

On the top floor is new office space for accounting as well as billing, or what the medical center calls patient financial services. This is where patients can go to pay their bills or make billing inquiries.

To find the billing office, park in the upper drive and use the door on the left. There are signs inside.

Gifford first bought the Kingwood building in 2007 as an opportunity to expand services. Initially the flat-roofed, dark structure underwent renovations. The new addition seamlessly expanded the structure toward the wood-line.

Also located at the health center are Gifford’s Blueprint Community Health Team, mental health practitioner Cory Gould, the Diabetes Clinic and a private practice dentist, Dr. John Westbrook – all on the top floor.

Call the health center at 728-7100 and listen for options for reaching the various departments.

Health Connections caseworker Michele Packard remains at the main medical center. Michele provides patients help accessing insurance and free care options. (Go in the main entrance at Gifford’s main campus and look for signs to find Michele.)

Gifford Breaks Ground on Senior Living Community

Randolph senior center

Officials break ground Tuesday afternoon on Gifford Medical Center’s senior living community in Randolph Center. From left are Dan Smith from builder HP Cummings Construction Co., Gifford nursing home administrator Linda Minsinger, Gifford board Chairman ¬¬Gus Meyer, Gifford Administrator Joe Woodin, Gifford Vice President of Operations and Surgery Rebecca O’Berry and retired Gifford plant operations director Theron Manning.

Amid cloudy skies and unseasonably chilly temperatures, a crowd of more than 100 turned out Tuesday afternoon to show their support as officials from Gifford Medical Center officially broke ground on a much-anticipated Senior Living Community.

For more than two years Gifford in Randolph has been working to gain approvals and move forward with a project that includes the reconstruction of its 30-bed nursing home, the Menig Extended Care Facility, on 30 picturesque acres in Randolph Center. Later phases of the project would include up to 100 independent living units and 20 assisted living beds.

Plans additionally call for renovations at the hospital. Once Menig moves, the current nursing home at Gifford will be renovated into 25 private inpatient rooms for patient safety and privacy. The hospital now has shared rooms.

Gifford earned Act 250 approval for the first two phases of the project – the new 30-bed nursing home and 40 independent living units – last August and Certificate of Need approval for both the new nursing home and hospital renovations from the Green Mountain Care Board in October.

Spring construction was planned and on Tuesday hospital officials along with the contractor HP Cummings Construction Co., architect MorrisSwitzer, and engineer DuBois & King broke ground on the new nursing home.

“It is a great occasion to celebrate this next step,” said Gifford Administrator Joseph Woodin. “To be able to put the shovel to the ground, we’ll remember this.”

Woodin noted the nursing home’s history and track record.

Gifford opened the Menig Extended Care Facility in 1998 after a local for-profit nursing home, 53-bed Tranquility Nursing Home, was “closed” by the state for quality concerns.

Since it has opened, Menig has won numerous state and national awards for quality, including being named one of the country’s 39 best nursing homes in 2012 by U.S. News and World Report. The only nursing home in all of Orange County, Menig has a significant waiting list – about 100 people – for care.

Randolph senior living

Gifford Administrator Joseph Woodin addresses a crowd of more than 100 at Tuesday’s groundbreaking for Gifford’s senior living community in Randolph Center.

It’s nursing home officials’ hope that by adding assisted living units, some of that waiting list will be diminished. The medical center has also seen community members move outside of the area for independent living options.

Ashley Lincoln, Gifford’s director of development, called the project “both personally and professionally exciting.” “It is an opportunity for Gifford to carry on its tradition of meeting the community’s care needs, and it will allow more of our senior family and friends to remain in the region where they have grown up.”

The project, said Gifford Board of Trustees Chairman Gus Meyer, is a step forward for the hospital and the community.

“It has long been true in health care, if you stand still, you’re going to lose,” Meyer said.

And while Tuesday’s groundbreaking was for the new nursing home phase of the project, the complete plans are what excite Meyer.

“It’s not just a nursing home moving up on the hill. It’s all the renovations that are going to occur at the hospital,” he said, “and independent and assisted living come behind. We’re really excited about that, and we’re really excited to do this in a way that makes sense financially and that makes sense for our communities.

“This is all a part of Gifford becoming even more involved in the health of our communities, … and doing all we can to realize our vision of having the healthiest communities that we can.”

Construction on the new nursing home is expected to take about a year. Renovations at the hospital will follow.

Gene Parent in Gifford Gallery

Gene Parent in Gifford GalleryLocal artist Gene Parent’s watercolors, pen and ink drawings, pastels and more are in the Gifford Gallery until May 28.

Largely self-taught, Parent is a fourth-generation Vermonter who spent his youth in Richmond. He now lives in Brookfield with his family.

A member of the Vermont Watercolor Society, The Pastel Society and The Paletteers, Parent brings of diverse show of Vermont landscapes, farm animals and more in a variety of media.

Perhaps best known for his watercolors, he has received many first and second place awards for his works. He has shown throughout northern Vermont, including solo shows at Copley Woodlands in Stowe, the Cobblestone Café in Burlington, LaBrioche in Montpelier, the Chelsea Public Library, the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier, the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Barre and at Gifford.

“Art brings me intimately closer to everything I paint, from the rustling leaves to the flutter and song of little birds, the subtle sounds of running water and the distant mournful calls of a fledging crow,” Parent says. “I enjoy several media. Watercolors are the most exciting and challenging and pen the most fun, followed by pencil sketching.

Parent’s show is free and open to the public. The Gifford Gallery is just inside the main entrance of the Randolph hospital at 44 S. Main St. Call Gifford at (802) 728-2324 for more information.

Starr Strong, Dr. Brian Sargent Say Goodbye

Chelsea community welcomes new caregivers

Roger Sargent and Rebecca Savidge

Chelsea Health Center patient Roger Sargent of Tunbridge chats with his new physician assistant, Rebecca Savidge.

The metaphorical passing of the baton at the Chelsea Health Center Thursday afternoon was reminiscent of the perfect race. There was unparalleled effort, emotion and cheers of support.

On Thursday Chelsea welcomed new caregivers Dr. Amanda Hepler and Rebecca Savidge, both family medicine providers, and said goodbye to Dr. Brian Sargent and physician assistant Starr Strong.

Dr. Sargent is transitioning to full-time Emergency Department work, something that will allow him more time for sugaring, pruning apple trees and deer hunting, he said.

Strong is retiring after 21 years.

Ernest Kennedy and Starr Strong

Ernest Kennedy of Chelsea hugs retiring Chelsea Health Center physician assistant Starr Strong. To Kennedy, Strong is more than the local caregiver. She was the dear friend of his daughter Judy Alexander, who lost her battle with cancer on Sunday.

Community-owned, the health center is part of Gifford Health Care. Gifford Medicine Division Medical Director, and former Chelsea doctor, Josh Plavin introduced the outgoing and incoming teams.

Dr. Hepler comes to Chelsea from New Hampshire and, before that, a very rural practice in Maine. She was looking to find that again and has in Chelsea. “It’s been great so far. Everyone’s been very welcoming,” said the warm hearted Dr. Hepler.

“I think you grew up in this clinic,” Dr. Plavin said of Savidge.

“With Dr. Plavin,” she replied, indicating he was her caregiver.

Dr. Josh Plavin and Dr. Amanda Helper

Gifford Medicine Division Medical Director Dr. Josh Plavin introduces new Chelsea family physician Dr. Amanda Hepler.

“Which is not making me feel old at all,” he said.

Savidge practiced in Plainfield before coming home to Chelsea. “I appreciate the community letting me come back to the community as a provider,” she said to the standing room only crowd gathered in the health center’s waiting room.

Savidge thanked Dr. Sargent and Strong for building such an outstanding clinic and acknowledged that she and Dr. Hepler had some big shoes to fill.

Dr. Brian Sargent speaks

The crowd laughs as Dr. Brian Sargent says a warm goodbye to Chelsea patients. He has transitioned to full-time Emergency Department work at Gifford.

“I want to thank you all for trusting me with your care. Like Amanda, I’ve felt very welcome,” said Dr. Sargent who has practiced in Chelsea for five years.

But even for Dr. Sargent, the day was about Strong. “She’s (Strong has) been a joy to work with and a good friend. You won’t find a more compassionate person on the planet,” he said.

“Starr taught me about community,” Dr. Plavin added. “Starr taught me about relationships, as well as medicine, and is really the rock that has been the continuous presence all of this time. Starr is the Chelsea Health Center.”

Starr Strong and Virginia Button

Starr Strong, retiring Chelsea physician assistant, is embraced by patient Virginia Button of Chelsea.

Her patients who were present – and there were many – agreed.

“She’s been my doctor forever,” said Roger Sargent, a Tunbridge resident who has already transitioned his care to Dr. Hepler and Savidge. “I think she (Strong) has a nice lady taking her place, two of them.”

Virginia Button embraced Strong and didn’t let go.

“I’ve been with Starr since she’s been at the health center,” she said, tearing up. “It’s like you’ve lost part of your life.”

Joe Woodin and Starr Strong

Gifford President Joe Woodin and Starr Strong share a laugh.

But Button was optimistic.

“I’m sure the two that are here will fill her shoes,” she said, “eventually.”

Ernest Kennedy gave Strong three hugs. One for himself, one for his wife and one for his daughter, the late Judy Alexander, Strong’s dear friend and a former nurse at the Chelsea Health Center who passed away Sunday and whose loss was felt at Thursday’s gathering.

Kennedy was there to offer his support for Strong, who moved into Alexander’s home during a final days to provide constant vigil, but he wasn’t exactly supportive of Strong’s decision to retire. “She’s not old enough, and we need her.”

Strong disagreed, but not before expressing her thanks for the community’s support.

“I can’t tell you how rich I feel. I’m more grateful than I can tell you. The relationships we have when we go in and sit down and close the (exam room) door; that is a sacred spot.”

She is finally able to step away from those relationships, she says, because she is leaving her patients in the “graceful, beautiful and knowledgeable hands” of Dr. Hepler and Savidge. “It gives me joy in my heart rather than sadness in my soul,” Strong said.