A Dash of Friendship: Patient Registration

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

a dash of friendship

When 79-year-old Judy Harding fell in her kitchen, her neighbor gave her a ride to the Emergency Department, but she didn’t have a way to get home. Then she thought of someone she knew who would help her – Marcelo Reyes from Patient Registration. Marcelo hurried to get his car from the employee lot, drove her home, saw her inside, gave her his cell phone number in case she ever needed him, and shoveled her slippery walkway.

“Gifford has become my version of Cheers. Everybody knows my name. It’s the place I go for comfort and friendship. Marcelo and I have become sort of pals. I really like him a lot and he has been very good to me. He’s just a pleasure, and he smiles.”  ~ Judy Harding

Gifford patient registration

Patient registration receptionist Marcelo Reyes and Judy Harding

Roll in Excellence: Materials Management

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

roll in excellence

When a patient arrives for surgery, they see doctors and nurses, but it takes a much bigger, behind-the-scenes team to ensure the operating room is ready to provide care. Materials Management, which purchases supplies and handles deliveries for the entire medical center, is one department that is especially vital, says Surgical Services Nurse Manager Jamie Floyd.

“Every single thing we do relies on specialized equipment and tools. Nearly all of this equipment is either disposable or has a disposable component. Materials Management provides excellent service and handles the complex logistics of ensuring that we have the items we need, when we need them.”  ~ Jamie Floyd

Gifford materials management department

Materials clerks Tina Brady and Alice Whittington, surgery nurse manager Jamie Floyd, shipping and receiving clerk Josh Fahnestock, and purchasing specialist Teresa Bradley.

One Large Serving of Smiles: Room Service

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

one large serving of smiles

Jane Currier of Randolph Center spent weeks at Gifford, including Thanksgiving and Christmas, after a fall where she injured her head and fractured her shoulder. A bright spot in the 84-year-old’s day were meal deliveries by Simon Leong of the Food and Nutrition Services team. Both remember the day they met well.

“Who are you?” Jane recalls Simon asking. “I said, ‘I’m Jane.’ And he said, ‘I’m Tarzan.’ And we kept it up. He’s very friendly. He never forgets names. He’s somebody to talk to. He’s funny. He’s a character. I think I’ll keep him and take him home.”  ~ Jane Currier

Gifford cook Simon Leong

Cook Simon Leong and Jane Currier

A Cup of Compassion: Volunteer Profile

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

a cup of compassion

During a trip to Hawaii in April of 2000, Irene Schaefer’s husband fell, hit his head, and died two days later at Queens Medical Center in Honolulu. Irene was completely alone, except for the chaplaincy volunteers at the hospital who sat with her during her husband’s final two days.

“It was traumatic and sad, but those people kept me going,” says Irene.

Just a month later, back in Randolph, a local reverend with the help of a team of area churchgoers started the volunteer chaplaincy program at Gifford. It was too soon for Irene, a local resident, but when a second training was scheduled that November, Irene signed up. “I had to get out and give back because of what I had been given in Hawaii.”

In the more than decade since, this now 85-year-old has made Gifford her “second home.” “It’s very rewarding. I get more out of it than I give,” she says.

She comes several times a month to spend a couple of hours visiting with patients. When a patient is dying, Irene offers a prayer “for a calm and smooth transition.” Mostly, though, she listens. “Everybody has a story,” she says.

She is often the person called in the night to comfort a patient or family in the Emergency Department.

For Irene, it is not her first “job” or even her first volunteer job. From New Jersey, Irene was a church secretary for years. Upon moving to Randolph 40 years ago, she worked at DuBois and King as the “girl Friday” distributing mail, developing photos in a dark room and operating the business’ first computer, which was roughly the size of Gifford’s chapel, she recalls. She went on to do computer work for a local accountant, until retiring in 1991. A decade of volunteering at White River Valley Ambulance in billing followed.

At WRVA, Irene chased down patients and insurance companies for payments.

At Gifford, the only payment a soft spoken, elegant and humorous Irene is seeking is peace of mind.

“I think I could write a book. The experiences have been from very humorous to very sad. I have had a marriage proposal,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve also been in the Garden Room (for end-of-life patients). I don’t want to say it’s my favorite place, but it’s a place where I feel comfortable, when some of the other (volunteers) do not, because I have been there personally, and I totally admire our palliative care system.”

That admiration and an ongoing need for a comforting hand and listening ear will keep Irene volunteering with Gifford’s chaplaincy program as long as she’s able.

“I look at it as a need. It’s a need that’s being fulfilled, which doesn’t happen at all hospitals. It’s part of Gifford’s outreach and caring and the reason why patients want to be here.”

Irene Schaefer

Irene Schaefer

One Heaping Teaspoon of Heart: Cardiac Rehabilitation

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

Janet Kittredge

Janet Kittredge and cardiac rehabilitation nurse Annette Petrucelli

After having a stent placed in her heart, Janet Kittredge of Hancock did cardiac rehabilitation at Gifford. She was nervous to start, and then reluctant to leave.

“I love those ladies. They became friends and I couldn’t wait to get back to see them. I just thought they were such happy, positive people. They had (us) all feeling motivated and they made (us) all feel safe and secure … . We talked about all kinds of personal things. It was really fun. Anyone who was there was glad to come back and in no hurry to leave.”
~ Janet Kittredge

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.

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.

Certified Nurse Midwife Joins Randolph, Berlin Practices

April Vanderveer

April Vanderveer

April Vanderveer, a certified nurse-midwife and women’s health nurse practitioner, has joined the Gifford Ob/Gyn & Midwifery team.

Vanderveer is an experienced birthing center nurse who went on to nurse midwifery school at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She also has a bachelor’s of science degree from the University of Vermont and a bachelor’s in nursing degree from the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston.

It was her own Vermont birthing experience that prompted Vanderveer to pursue a nursing and then a midwifery degree. “I had an absolutely wonderful midwife, and she inspired me to look into it,” said Vanderveer, a native of California who moved to Vermont in 1991.

Vanderveer worked for 11 years at Copley Hospital in Morrisville as a Birthing Center nurse learning to care for moms and babies before and while in midwifery school.

As part of her schooling, she did nine months of clinical training at Gifford. “I just really liked the culture here. The midwives and the Ob nurses were really fantastic, and I just felt like this is where I wanted to work,” she said.

She realized that dream this month when she joined certified nurse-midwives Meghan Sperry, Kathryn Saunders and Maggie Gardner in practice at Gifford in Randolph and the Gifford Health Center at Berlin.

Vanderveer calls Gifford’s midwifery team a “cohesive group.” “I’m really excited to join a team of excellent practitioners,” she said.

Vanderveer is board certified by the American Midwifery Certification Board. Because of her unique training as a women’s health nurse practitioner, her clinical interests include women’s care across the lifespan.

She describes her approach as collaborative, where the patient is a member of the care team. She also strives to incorporate evidence-based practices (best standards of care) into patient’s individualized needs and goals.

Vanderveer lives in Waterville. She is married to a chef, Chase Vanderveer, and previously owned Winding Brook Bistro in Johnson with him. Together they have three children, ages 13, 14 and 17. Vanderveer enjoys the outdoors, kayaking and downhill skiing, as well as cross-country skiing, hiking, gardening and playing Frisbee golf on the family’s property.

Call Vanderveer or another member of the Gifford midwifery team in Randolph at (802) 728-2401 or in Berlin at (802) 229-2325.

Pioneer Physician Assistant Retires

Starr Strong blazed a new role for 21 years at Chelsea Health Center

Starr Strong

Starr with a baby

Physician assistant Starr Strong retires on May 1 after 21 years at the Chelsea Health Center. Robin Palmer, a former journalist who now does marketing at Gifford, sat down with Strong this week to get her reflections on her career and two decades of commitment to the Chelsea community.

CHELSEA – Starr Strong took a meandering path to health care.

Raised in Connecticut, she studied eastern religion at Beloit College in Wisconsin and went on to travel in India and Nepal and work a variety of jobs, including for a childhood lead prevention program in Massachusetts and counseling troubled teens.

A self-described hippie, wherever she went she found a cabin in the woods to live with her dog, usually with no electricity. She “played pioneer,” she said.

She contemplated a career in social work, but after traveling found herself drawn to a relatively new career – that of a physician assistant.

Despite a complete lack of experience in medicine, as a white person traveling in India and Nepal she was often called upon by villagers to help with illness, she said. “They bring you their wounds. They bring you their sickness. I found that I loved it.”

Duke University had started the first physician assistant program following the Vietnam War for returning medics looking to put their skills to work, Strong recalled. Wake Forest University in North Carolina was one of the schools to follow. Strong entered physician assistant school at Wake Forest in 1979.

Coming home to Vermont

Starr Strong

Starr with a patient in 1996

She came to Vermont in 1981 while in physician assistant school to do what the industry calls a clinical rotation – like an internship – with local ob/gyn Dr. Thurmond Knight and midwife Karen O’Dato. It was not her first experience in Vermont, however.

Strong calls growing up in Connecticut “a mistake.” “I knew that I was so supposed to be here,” she said.

Strong’s family came from Brookfield. As a child they would visit the family homestead several times a year. Strong recalls her mother telling at her the end of one trip when she was 5 or 6 that is time to go home. “But I am home” was Strong’s reply.

Strong is the sixth generation to own that Brookfield property, where she still lives with husband John Button and one of her two children, Dylan, 28. Twenty-four-year-old daughter Maylee lives in Chelsea.

When she first came home to that old farmhouse with no running water, Strong envisioned a job at Gifford in Randolph, but long-time hospital Chief Executive Officer Phil Levesque told her no, repeatedly.

“I knocked on Gifford’s door every year,” said Strong. She repeatedly heard that the Medical Staff just wasn’t ready for a physician assistant, and might never be.

The hospital had just one private practice nurse practitioner affiliated with it at the time. The concept of a physician assistant – now commonplace in the industry – was completely new.

Starr Strong

Starr in 1996

Strong went to work for Planned Parenthood for a dozen years. She worked mostly in Barre doing gynecological exams and talking about birth control. But still she knocked on the door.

The door to Gifford edges open
In early 1993, the door creaked ajar. The hospital agreed to trial Strong in Chelsea a day and a half a week alongside new physician Dr. George Terwilliger, who had replaced retiring physician Dr. Brewster Martin.

Strong was Gifford’s first physician assistant and the first female health care provider at the Chelsea Health Center.

Martin made sure Strong stuck.

“He was incredible,” she recalled. He introduced her around time, advocated for her and he came during many a lunch hour to the Route 110 health center to chat.

The duo formed a mentor-mentee relationship and a strong friendship. They’d save up stories and thoughts to share. They talked about suffering and loss, life and death, and whatever they found funny.

“He was the wisest person I’ve known in my life. It was quite a blessing and I don’t use that word very often,” said Strong.

What she remembers most was that he would ask her thoughts on a subject.

“He gave me confidence,” she said. “I had so much respect for him that him asking me what I thought was enormous.”

Starr Strong

Starr in 2008


Soon Strong was working at other Gifford health centers, including in Bethel, at the student health center at Vermont Technical College, in Randolph and recently in Berlin. Chelsea, however, has been a constant.

She promised Martin she would stay in Chelsea for 20 years. This year marks 21.

Just the right fit in Chelsea
Strong found a home at the Chelsea Health Center.

“Chelsea’s an old time family community and people are fiercely independent and have a lot of pride. If they don’t have anything, it doesn’t matter. It’s down to earth,” Strong said.

For a woman loath to “lipstick and high heels,” it was just perfect.

And like with Martin, she formed relationships there.

“Medicine is not just a science. Medicine is an art and it’s about relationships and it’s about developing relationships with people,” she said.

Those relationships have come with generations of patients and with co-workers like nurse Judy Alexander, who became the closest of friend.

“She just made me laugh. I could call her at 4 o’clock in the morning and she would be at my house at 4:30, and you don’t get that in life often.”

Starr Strong

Starr with friend and patient Judy Alexander in 2012

Alexander is also a patient of Strong’s – a patient who is in the very end stage of terminal cancer. Like so many of her patients, Strong has been at Alexander’s bedside.

“At the beginning of my career, I thought birthing was my ticket and then I took care of a dying person and found that that is really where the juice is,” she said, noting the courage one witnesses in illness and death.

Alexander’s illness and waiting for just the right new providers to join the Chelsea Health Center in her place have in part kept Strong working past that 20 years she promised Martin.

A new chapter
But now she is ready.

Strong is 62, struggles with pain caused from arthritis in her spine and is slowing down. “I don’t have that vitality anymore,” she said.

And she wants to be home. Her husband has been building a new house on that family homestead in Brookfield. “I want to be there to finish it, and have the time to move in.”

She wants to travel and ski and kayak and garden and make stained glass and spend more time with her 95-year-old mom.

She can do all this because of family medicine providers Dr. Amanda Hepler and physician assistant Rebecca Savidge. Like Strong did 21 years ago, they have joined the Chelsea Health Center.

Dr. Hepler comes from Maine and has a passion for rural medicine and Savidge is a Chelsea native. They’re skilled and compassionate and plan on staying for a very long time. Strong couldn’t be happier.

“Once patients meet them, they’re going to love them,” Strong said.

In fact, they’re so great to be around that Strong anticipates a few visits to Chelsea of her own.

“Now I’m going to be the lunchtime girl,” she said, thinking back to those lunches with the retired Martin.

Wish Strong well in her retirement and meet Dr. Hepler and Savidge at a May 1 open house being held from 4-6 p.m. at the Chelsea Health Center that is open to all.

Gifford Offering a Variety of Trainings Focused on Children

Gifford eventsGifford Medical Center is offering a handful of upcoming trainings aimed at children and families.

On Thursday, May 8, the Randolph hospital will offer a non-certification Infant and Child CPR course for families, friends and caregivers of babies and children. Classes are presented by an instructor certified by the American Heart Association. The free class is from 6-8 p.m. Call 728-7710 to sign up.

On Saturday, May 10 from 9:30 a.m. to noon will be a training for children ages 8-11 called “Home Alone and Safe.”

Designed by chapters of the American Red Cross, this course is offered by instructor Jude Powers and teaches children how to respond to home alone situations, including Internet safety, family communications, telephone safety, sibling care, personal and gun safety, and basic emergency care. Children will role play, brainstorm, watch a video, take home a workbooks and handouts, and earn a certification upon completion.

The cost to participate is $15. Call Powers at 649-1841 to join.

And then on Saturday, May 17 from 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. a Babysitter’s Training Course will be offered. Again offered by Powers, the course teaches budding babysitters how to be safe, responsible and successful. It covers good business practices, basic care, diapering, safety, play, proper hand washing, handling infants, responding to injuries, decision making in emergencies, action plans and much more.

Communication skills are emphasized along with being a good role model, and participants receive a certification card upon completion of the course and reference notebook to take home.

There is a $20 fee to participant and participants should bring their lunch. Call Powers at 649-1841 to join.

All these events are being held in The Family Center, beside Gifford Ob/Gyn and Midwifery at 38 S. Main St. (Route 12) in Randolph. Registration is required as seating is limited.

For more information and directions, visit www.giffordmed.org.