Perched at the top of the hill overlooking Canal Street, the brick façade of Brattleboro Memorial Hospital seems to sit at a physical distance from the rest of the town. But for those who have accessed care here, the hospital embodies the emotional heart of the community. When donors talk about their reasons for giving to BMH, their stories always touch on relationships they have with the doctors, nurses and other staff members.
“We can talk to our doctors like people. That doesn’t happen everywhere,” says Steve Damon, while recounting several affectionate anecdotes. Steve and his wife, Joyana, are both elementary school music teachers. Even though they live in Massachusetts, where Steve is employed, they maintain their health insurance through Joyana, who works in Vermont, so they can continue to use the doctors and facilities at BMH.
Joyana had contracted diabetes while carrying their son, Isaac, who is now six, but Steve says he felt their doctors had prepared them well to calmly handle any complications. “We laugh because no matter how many questions we ask when we’re in the office, they always ask if there’s anything else we’d like to know,” he says.
The Damons recently lost Joyana’s step-father, Denny, to bone marrow cancer. Steve says that during treatments Denny would keep the pain at bay and the BMH staff entertained by singing. To show their gratitude for the care he received, they are organizing a health fair to raise funds for the oncology department. The fair is scheduled to take place in February at the United Church in Bernardston, Massachusetts, where Denny was the minister from 1980-1989 prior to serving as minister in West Brattleboro from 1996-2005.
Then there is Tom and Bev Lynch an octogenarian couple that has accessed the hospital’s 24 hour emergency medical services this past year. Beverly was sent to the ER with uncontrolled bleeding after surgery to remove a cyst from her arm. Dr. Teresa Fitzharris-Onyon demonstrated a high level of medical expertise and compassion as she worked to staunch the bleeding from an artery. Bev was admitted to BMH overnight and has nothing but praise for the BMH and ER staff.
Tom says that since the time of his first colon cancer operation at BMH back in 1977, he has noticed the advances in technology, but it’s the staff that gives him comfort. “The people who draw my blood, I’ve known them for over 25 years. You feel really good about it,” he says, adding that their contribution to the annual fund each year is made in the name of Beverly’s mother, Ann Ingalls.
For Lissa Weinmann, the empathy with which her mother, Muriel, was treated after suffering a stroke that necessitated several hospital visits over the past year was greatly appreciated. Muriel had moved to Brattleboro from the New York City borough of Queens to be closer to her daughter and grandchildren. Lissa says that she would discuss the level of care with her sister, who lives in Cleveland, and the two agreed that even when compared to the finest hospitals in large cities, their mother was getting the best possible attention and treatment at BMH.
When Muriel passed away, everyone at the hospital was very respectful of the families’ privacy and wishes, Lissa says, citing especially their case manager, Dion Eleftherakis, whom she calls “an angel.” She credits the way the BMH staff went out of their way to make her mother as comfortable as possible as the reason she chose to make a gift to the hospital as well as why she agreed to share her story.
“People should know the hospital in their community is helping people,” says Lissa. “It’s nice to know that the hospital is there if we ever need it again.”