Schwartz Center honors nursing assistant Vilma Barrios with 2011 caregiver award

Vilma Barrios, certified nursing assistant and winner of the 2011 Schwartz Center Compassionate Caregiver Award
Vilma Barrios, certified nursing assistant and winner of the 2011 Schwartz Center Compassionate Caregiver Award –Courtesy photo

Vilma Barrios, a certified nursing assistant who works with terminally ill patients at Circle of Caring at Hospice of the Good Shepherd in Newton, was honored with the Schwartz Center Compassionate Caregiver Award at the organization’s annual dinner this evening.

Barrios, 47, of Brighton, also works with a private client with disabilities and volunteers on weekends for Brio Integrated Theatre, a nonprofit group that includes actors with and without disabilities.

“We are thrilled to be able to recognize someone like Vilma, who represents one of the many unsung heroes in our health care system,’’ Julie Rosen, executive director of The Schwartz Center said in a press release. “With so much focus these days on what’s wrong with health care, it’s a pleasure to honor a caregiver who is doing everything right and making a huge difference in the lives of terminally ill patients and their families.’’

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Barrios came to the United States from Guatemala at age 16, working in a factory in Massachusetts for 10 years. When the business was about to be moved out of state, she asked to be laid off, sensing there was something missing in her life, she said in written remarks prepared for this evening’s event. A job counselor suggested that she become a certified nursing assistant

“I jumped at the chance,’’ Barrios said. “Though I am honored by all the wonderful things people have said, I am embarrassed, too. For me, my job seems very simple. I try to share all of my heart with my patient, knowing that one day I will be in the same situation.’’

The center shared this story from Hospice of Good Shepherd Director of Nurses Joyce Gallagher, who nominated Barrios:

We cared for a younger woman with metastatic breast cancer, and as this woman had no friends or family, our hospice team became her family as her inability to trust dissolved slowly. With the care and support we offered, she began to allow the hospice team into her nonexistent social circle. Vilma was a part of this team and a crucial catalyst in establishing comfort and trust. In this woman’s final hours, Vilma, although her paid time with the patient had ended, stayed many hours into the early morning until the patient died because Vilma did not want her to die alone.

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Barrios is the first nursing assistant to receive the award, which has been given since 1999.

“I guess you got me just in time, because I’m planning to become a nurse,’’ Barrios said.

The Schwartz Center and the award are named for Ken Schwartz, a Boston attorney who died of lung cancer at age 40 and established the center in the days before his death to promote compassionate care.

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