Caribbean community healthcare excellence

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Honoree Dr. Bernadette Sheridan.

Last week, the first Caribbean Life Healthcare Awards gala celebrated the contributions and excellence of 48 Caribbean healthcare professionals. Held in the heart of Brooklyn’s Caribbean community, Tropical Paradise Ballroom was filled with love and respect.

It was a family affair. Husbands, wives and children, mothers, fathers and siblings, and friends and colleagues came to the tribute

Supervisors, coworkers and friends nominated the recipients who were selected for their outstanding professionalism that was frequently coupled with community outreach–local or in their home country.

Social worker at Queens Hospital Tina Morris’s nomination from those she works with came as a complete surprise.

“The evening was outstanding,” she summed it up afterwards, voicing how many of the awardees felt. “ It was well thought out and fun. My favorite part of the evening was listening to each honoree’s journey.”

The paths to a career in healthcare were varied including the struggle of newly arrived immigrants or graduates straight from high school. Some awardees were single moms who returned to school for professional certification, some were first generation-born Americans pursuing the dream.

Doctors, nurses, dentists, social workers, home health care workers, and trainers were among the awardees.

Some career journeys were direct, others recipients experienced starts and detours, yet perseverance triumphed among them all. Family, mentors and often their religious faith factored into the support and success of recipients.

Shouldering family responsibilities and staying focused through the years, Jamaican immigrant Ruby Bryan worked her way up from health home aide to becoming a registered nurse, at the age of 62.

While receiving her award, DJ Funky Fatboy aka Colin played “I am blessed.” Beaming, Ms. Bryan began to sing the lyrics and the entire room joined with her spontaneously. It was the most moving moment of the evening.

DJ Colin added his own mark, playing well-known songs, frequently from the awardees’ origin countries. Adrian Dutchin’s “I am Guyanese,” Bob Marley tunes, or popular Chaka Khan hits got family and friends singing, however briefly, until the next awardee was announced.

Three generations of the family of Awardee Dr. Ella Richards-Francois sat at the same table as Ms. Bryan with her family. Dr. Richards-Francois “found we have several things in common.”

She added in a note to Caribbean Life that the award was especially meaningful, not just because she is devoted to the Caribbean community, but, because her parents, able to attend the gala, worked in healthcare their entire lives and now are retired.

She said, “My mother was a nurse for over 45 years, and my father was a chemist in a biophysics lab (also at Downstate) for over 40 years.” Dr. Richards-Francois conveyed that by extension, their life’s work was also being honored that evening.

Four nurse army reservists-three lieutenant colonels and one colonel– garnered much respect in their uniforms as they received awards.

Lieutenant Colonel Joan Davis wrote us following the gala, “When I looked around the room on June 25, and saw the years of experience, degrees, talent, and service given to our adopted country, I thought, ‘what a privilege to be among such a phenomenal group.’”

Lieutenant Colonel Paulette Williams joined in the kudos, “It was such a pleasure to be amongst friends, family and acquaintances, and to hear of the different contributions given by all the other nominees throughout their health care professions. I was so happy to have my family attend.”

While each of the 48 was honored individually, on behalf of the doctor and nurse recipients, Awardees Dr. Vincent Hutchinson, President of the Caribbean American Medical and Scientific Association and Claudette Powell, president of the Caribbean American Nurses Association, gave acceptance speeches.

With great admiration for the recipients, former Jamaican Consul General Geneive Brown Metzger was a very cordial Master of Ceremonies.

Hon. Omya David, chair of the CARICOM Consular Corps, representing 13 Caribbean Communities, gave the keynote address. After offering congratulations, she added, “I believe that these 48 found their calling and life’s purpose in their respective healthcare profession.”

Ms. David cited important numbers from State Comptroller DiNapoli’s Economic Snapshot of Brooklyn, that healthcare and social assistance sectors are the dominant employers in Brooklyn with 160,410 jobs in 2012 and accounting for one-third of all private sector jobs. “It is reasonable to conclude that quite a large number of our Caribbean American brothers and sisters are employed in the healthcare field ranging from MDs to home healthcare workers,” she said.

She mentioned how the Consular Corps, on Aug. 23, is partnering with three Caribbean medical associations, CANA, CAMSA and CWHA, for the Caribbean Health Fair–their third year as a partner. The Fair will be in the parking lot and gym at St. Jerome Catholic Church, located at Nostrand and Newkirk Avenues. Ms. David gave a shout-out to those present; they need volunteers.

She also noted that Caribbean American healthcare professionals are important to the Caribbean community for their ability to provide culturally competent care while being culturally sensitive. And also, Caribbean American professionals can help educate the community particularly those with limited access or means to healthcare.

For many of the 48, this celebration of acknowledgement reinforced the efforts of their journey to and demanded by their chosen profession.

Sharing the evening with a number of family members, Registered Nurse Merle Warren later reflected, “It was a very edifying program. It has placed within my heart to continue to encourage the younger people in their career choices.” Adding, “It has also made me aware of the importance of giving back to the community.” The words of her late father echo in her head, “Do good and good will follow.”

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