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Caregivers Center changing lives in Cedar Rapids

Catholic hospital gets national award for program

By Jill Kruse-Domeyer
Witness Editorial Assistant

CEDAR RAPIDS — Since opening its doors nearly three years ago, the Family Caregivers Center of Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids has provided services to 870 individuals who care for loved ones suffering from dementia and other adult chronic conditions.

“The center has changed my life. It is such a gift to our community. It’s a blessing,” said Karen Dennis, a member of St. Ludmila Parish in Cedar Rapids, and a caregiver who has received ongoing support from the Family Caregivers Center.

Dennis provides care for her husband of 57 years, Dean, who suffers from dementia. She attends a support group through the center every other week. “In that group, I feel validated. I feel understood. I feel people care,” she said. “I feel reenergized and able to face the journey.”

The Family Caregivers Center has alter­ed her outlook on her husband’s illness, and on life in general, she said. “It has really taught me to take one day at a time and enjoy the things we can still enjoy and to take advantage of each day,” she reflected.

One of the aspects that Dennis finds most helpful about the center is that the volunteers who provide the supportive services the center offers are people who currently are or once were caregivers themselves.

“The beautiful thing is they are not telling me anything they have not already experienced. They’ve already been there. They know what I’m going through,” she said.

The facilitator of Dennis’ support group is Carole Butz, whose husband, Mick, has Alzheimer’s. Though her husband currently lives in a care center, she was his caregiver at home for many years.

“I volunteer because I get it. During the time that I was caring for Mick at home I was stressed beyond belief,” said Butz, who now tries to help other caregivers who find themselves in a similarly overwhelming situation.

“There’s a great deal of joy for me in seeing caregivers discover that they can have a life in the midst of all that they’re dealing with and all that is so stressful,” she said. “When I see people move into that awareness, grow in that awareness, it’s powerfully satisfying.”

In addition to helping to facilitate two different support groups with the Family Caregivers Center, Butz volunteers in a variety of other ways, including serving as a member of the center’s planning team.

Butz became involved with the Family Caregivers Center during its planning phase in 2014 through the invitation of a friend, Kathy Good, whose background is in social work and who also once served as a caregiver to her husband, Dave, who lived with Alzheimer’s for 12 years.

Good played a key role in the establishment of the Family Caregivers Center and today serves as its volunteer director. According to Good, the center was first envisioned after Mercy Medical Center’s president and CEO, Tim Charles, returned from a visit to a hospital in New York that had a caregivers center. He was intrigued by the concept.

“He talked with me about my interest in helping the hospital explore the possibility” of opening its own caregivers center to offer emotional support to caregivers in the local community, said Good. “I jumped at the chance.”

The Family Caregivers Center opened in late 2015 as a department of Mercy Medical Center, which is a Catholic hospital founded by the Sisters of Mercy nearly 120 years ago. The caregivers center opened across the street from the hospital on Eighth Avenue S.E. in Cedar Rapids.

The center offers spouses, adult children and other family caregivers one-on-one interviews with trained volunteers to talk about their individual situations, providing them with emotional support and helping them identify their needs and connecting them with resources in the community or at the center that may make their role as a caregiver easier.

A large variety of other services are also offered, including educational sessions and events, book discussion groups, drop-in support groups, 10-minute caregiver massages, male caregiver coffees, a resource library and a volunteer respite companion program that gives caregivers a break at home. There is information available to learn more about finances, Medicaid and veterans’ benefits and a program for those transitioning out of caregiving. Caregivers may also bring those they care for into the center to participate together in music therapy, an art experience or chair yoga.

According to Good, since the center opened, about 120 volunteers have offered their time to help local caregivers. She estimates that as of the end of August 2018, volunteers had provided about 18,000 hours of service with the center.

Those volunteers and the center itself were honored recently with an award from the American Hospital Association (AHA). The Family Caregivers Center was one of four programs in the nation recognized by the AHA as a winner in its Hospital Awards for Volunteer Excellence. The center and other award recipients were honored at a breakfast in Chicago on Sept. 30. A celebration was held Oct. 25 at Mercy in Cedar Rapids to recognize all those who have made the Family Caregivers Center a reality.

Good said the AHA award was a great honor, one that was only possible thanks to the contributions of many; she credits her husband, Dave, she said, for inspiring her to get involved with the Family Caregivers Center, and Tim Charles for originally coming up with the idea of establishing the center, as well as the Mercy Medical Center Trustees, the Mercy Foundation and its board, and the centers’ many generous donors, volunteers, caregivers and those for whom they care.

“The award is a recognition of what happens when people are willing to come together and work together for good,” she said.


A volunteer at the Caregivers Center at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids helps a patient and her caregiver complete an art project. (Contributed photo)