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Editorial

By Alta J. Stark

When BusinessWest launched its Healthcare Heroes initiative, we knew this program would by eye-opening in many respects.

We understood it would identify a number of forward-thinking individuals and institutions, as well as some cutting-edge work. We understood it would generate some stories that needed to be told. And we understood it would identify some real heroes. It did all that, and then some, as the section that begins on page 15 reveals.

We created Healthcare Heroes because, despite the fact that BusinessWest has two other popular recognition programs — Difference Makers and 40 Under Forty — many of the outstanding individuals and stories from the broad realm of healthcare are overlooked, in part because these individuals are simply doing their jobs. The results — and the stories — far exceeded our lofty expectations.

Start with Sister Mary Caritas, winner in the ‘lifetime achievement’ category . The word ‘legend’ doesn’t get used much in Western Mass. We don’t have many legends here, it seems. But it works in this case. Her career in healthcare started when Truman was in the White House, and she’s still writing new chapters.

But it’s not simply the longevity that shapes this story; it is her ability to fight for a good cause, innovate, advocate for the most vulnerable of constituencies, and most importantly, inspire others to do all of the above. She is, as one friend and colleague noted, a remarkable woman.

As for the other heroes, they are all innovators as well, individuals and institutions working on the cutting edge within their fields and, more to the point, determining just what the cutting edge is or should be.

Examples include Dr. Andrew Doben, hero in the ‘innovation’ category, who is saving lives and changing lives with a surgical procedure known as rib fixation, and Genevieve Chandler, our other hero in the ‘innovation’ category, who has become a pioneer in work to help young people become more resilient.

But innovation comes in many forms, and this fact is made clear by some of our other heroes, such as Erin Daley, our winner in the ‘emerging leader’ category, who has orchestrated efforts to make the Mercy Medical Center Emergency Department more efficient and a better ‘front door’ for the hospital and this region. And also Molly Senn-McNally, winner in the ‘community health’ category, who is using powerful poverty-simulation seminars to help medical residents and medical students better understand the many challenges facing the region’s many low-income residents, and, through these efforts, making them better doctors.

‘Innovator’ is a term that could also be applied to Dr. Michael Willers, a pediatric cardiologist and winner in the ‘provider’ category, who works (and plays) hard to make his young patients — not to mention their parents — understand what’s happening with their heart and be at ease as he provides care. And also to Holly Chaffee, president and CEO of Porchlight VNA/Home Care, winner in the ‘administration’ category, who has created a culture of entrepreneurship, innovation, and risk taking — one that has enabled that company to earn the highest ratings in its class.

And ‘innovator’ could also be used to describe all those involved in the Healthy Hill Initiative (HHI) in Springfield, the winner in the ‘collaboration’ category. This multi-faceted effort to improve the health and well-being of residents in the city’s Old Hill neighborhood gives new meaning to that term.

As we said at the top, this inaugural Healthcare Heroes class, and the collection of stories behind their various efforts, is truly eye-opening.

But more than that, it is inspiring, reminding us of what a true hero is — someone who advocates for others and gives of themselves in unselfish ways to improve life for all of us.

In that respect, all of our winners — and all those who were nominated for this award — are true heroes.

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