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Caregivers receive honors for compassion, skills, dedication

Caregiver Arlene Carver, left, laughs with resident Hazel Skelton in the lobby of Evergreen Fountains Senior Living Community on March 18 in Spokane. (Jesse Tinsley)
Caregiver Arlene Carver, left, laughs with resident Hazel Skelton in the lobby of Evergreen Fountains Senior Living Community on March 18 in Spokane. (Jesse Tinsley)

Arlene Carver didn’t know she loved taking care of people until her mom needed her attention and assistance.

Yet she needed a job to pay the bills, so she became a certified caregiver in addition to caring for her ailing mother during her off hours. When her mother died in 2007, Carver decided to keep helping the elderly because it was a connection she enjoyed.

This love, compassion and ability to find humor in the sometimes bleak situations recently earned Carver the 2013 Caregiver of the Year Award for Chapter 10 of the Washington Health Care Association.

This is the first year the Eastern Washington chapter has presented care awards to honor outstanding work. Also receiving Chapter 10 awards were Debbie McDowell of Prestige Care and Rehabilitation Pinewood Terrace in Colville, who was named Activities Professional of the Year, and Leann Springer of Royal Plaza Retirement Center for the Community Service Award. Diana Hake of Royal Park Care Center received the Red Carpet Quality Service Award and Phedra Moran of North Central Care Center, who earned the Professional Development Award.

“The point of these awards is to highlight and honor them for the sometimes thankless job these people do,” said Brenda Orffer of the Washington Health Care Association in Tumwater. “They are not working a job. They are answering a call. You don’t just wake up one morning and decide you want to take care of elderly people.”

Carver, 65, can’t imagine doing anything else. The residents at Evergreen Fountains Senior Living Community in the Spokane Valley are her family. She laughs with them, cries with them, reads to them and holds their hand when they are dying. The job never gets easier, that’s why Carver said it’s so important to find humor and joy in the little things.

She recalls accidently petting a resident’s wig, mistakenly thinking it was a cat. Carver and Evergreen Fountains Nursing Director Donna Kembel giggled uncontrollably while telling the story. Kembel nominated Carver for the award. The two laughed through the entire interview, highlighting the joy they have for their work, the residents and the odd things that happen in a small community of an assisted living facility.

“I bet there isn’t more than a handful of residents she doesn’t know their story,” Kembel said. “This is like her family. It’s her home.”

Carver agreed and said she likes the technical side of distributing medications to residents in their rooms, but really enjoys the care part and getting to know each resident as a human, not just a patient.

“I feel needed,” Carver said. “Everybody wants to feel needed.”

Carver and the other four regional winners received their awards during the association’s legislative dinner at the Davenport Hotel in December. About 10 legislators and more than 100 long-term care professionals from the Spokane area attended. Orffer traveled to the facilities before the event and made video vignettes of each winner so the lawmakers could see health care workers as humans, rathan than statistics.

“We wanted the decision-makers in the state capitol to see that real people do the real work,” Orffer said. “To see the real stories behind the numbers.”

Orffer said Carver’s compassion and dedication was obvious by how the staff and the residents responded to her winning the award, hanging banners and buying Carver flowers.

“They rolled out the red carpet,” she said. “It was really sweet.”

Carver has worked for Evergreen Fountains for four years of her 10-year career in care giving. Before moving to Spokane, Carver was a longtime office manager for a hotel, restaurant and lounge in Kenai, Alaska. She has two sons and five grandchildren.

In the video, Evergreen Fountains Executive Director Prokey Arger called Carver incredible and outstanding and said her high standard and level of care comes from her “heart and her compassion.”

“I really and truly love her,” a male resident told the camera.

Carver responded by hugging the man and saying “Oh, you’re a sweetheart.”