On October 19, 2006, the cheerful buzz of a hundred voices filled the Ralston Center auditorium in Philadelphia. The lively crowd was assembled to celebrate the achievements of the eight winners of the Ralston Center Awards Program in Geriatrics 2006 Caregiver Awards.
In 2004, Ralston Center, an organization that offers programs to help seniors maintain healthy, independent lifestyles, inaugurated the Caregiver Award to recognize certified nursing assistants (CNAs) working in long-term care facilities located in Ralston's West Philadelphia neighborhood. “Our goal is to honor a job well done by nursing professionals who perform an important service in healthcare,” says Francis R. Strawbridge, president of the Ralston Center Board of Managers. “In addition to recognizing their daily efforts, which are often underappreciated, Ralston Center wants to provide an incentive to caregivers that will have a positive influence on the care provided by all certified nursing professionals.”
The Awards Program in Geriatrics continues Ralston Center's long history of service to the elderly. Founded in 1817 as the Indigent Widows and Single Women's Society by Sarah Ralston, Ralston Center's mission is to develop services that address the medical, mental health, and quality of life needs of older adults and to engage and assist in research and education in the care of the elderly. Ralston Center has refined its services over the years to accommodate prevailing needs in services for older adults. While no longer a provider of housing itself, the organization maintains a firm commitment to programs that enhance quality of life in aging.
The Caregiver Award encourages “quality of life in aging” through a very personal and focused acknowledgment of CNAs who exemplify the highest standards of compassion, commitment, and excellent care for their patients. In establishing the Caregiver Award, Ralston Center sought the support and participation of eight residential nursing facilities in its West Philadelphia neighborhood. In the initial year, 2004, some administrators needed gentle convincing to participate in the program—while there was universal enthusiasm for the idea, here was “one more thing” already taxed staff were being asked to do. And since Ralston asks each facility to devise its own process for selecting the recipients, the program requires thought-ful input by each nursing home.
For its part, Ralston Center representatives attend award ceremonies at each nursing home and provide a plaque inscribed with the name of each awardee to be installed in a prominent place in each facility. Ralston also hosts a catered reception at Ralston House. At this annual event, attended by families of the award winners and administrators of the nursing homes, each Caregiver Award recipient is presented with a framed certificate and a $500 cash award.
In some facilities, selecting the year's recipient has become a community project. Sharon Whitaker, RN, CNDLTC, NHA, is director of nursing at the 58th Street Presbyterian Home, a 59-bed nursing and rehabilitative health center in Southwest Philadelphia. She cites camaraderie at the facility as the most important outcome of the Caregiver Award program: “The entire management team was involved in the nomination process for the Caregiver Award, but the entire community voted to choose the recipient. It was an exciting time for all. The most wonderful thing is that this year, Reitha Ellis-Broaddus, the CNA who was chosen, received 90% of the votes, so the whole team was very pleased with the outcome.”
All the nursing home administrators emphasize good attendance, punctuality, attention to residents’ needs, and solid nursing skills as necessary starting points for candidates being considered for the award. Traits shared by award winners include an extra measure of pride in their work, a special ability to communicate with and advocate for patients, and a talent for cooperating with and supporting other staff members.