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She helps others at the end

(Jacob Eidsmoe)
By Karen Weintraub
Globe Correspondent / December 5, 2011
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WHO

Vilma Barrios

WHAT

Barrios, a certified nursing assistant at the Hospice of the Good Shepherd in Newton, was recently awarded the 2011 Schwartz Center Compassionate Caregiver Award from the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare, a Boston-based organization that promotes empathy among care givers and better end-of-life care.

Q. You are the first certified nursing assistant to ever win this award. What do you think you do differently from other certified nursing assistants?

A. I think I just do my job. I do it from the bottom of my heart. I love my work.

Q. You seem to have a real connection with your patients.

A. I feel the connection with them as soon as I go into their house. I talk to them very soft. I feel the connection inside me. It’s something I have in me that I cannot explain.

Q. You said you don’t like to call them your patients. Why not?

A. I try to find the word to call them, because I don’t like to call them clients, or patients. Maybe: part of my family, something close to me. They come into my heart.

Q. When you first arrived in the United States from Guatemala as a teenager, you worked in a factory for 10 years. But you say that was not as emotionally fulfilling as your current work.

A. Really not. I tried to work every area that I could and I was feeling like I was wasting my time.

Q. Have you always had this gift for helping older people?

A. Since I was a kid in my country, I used to like to help everybody who needed my help.

Q. Are there any patients with whom you’ve developed a special relationship?

A. I’ve had more than one special relationship. Everybody is very close to my heart. Some patients are more clear in their mind, they don’t have dementia or something. They really know what’s going on with them. We have more conversation and more time talking together.

Q. Are patients with Alzheimer’s or dementia harder to connect with?

A. With the people [who] have dementia or sickness in their mind, I try to sing to them and talk very softly. I know they understand, but you have to find a way to talk to them. One person, she just passed away. I was singing to her every morning. She’d wake up and look at me and smile. That was something that [made me] feel good inside.

Q. As a hospice worker, you must know many patients who pass away. When you form such close connections with them, isn’t that particularly hard for you?

A. When they’re gone, I cry. My heart is not strong [enough] not to cry. I feel the stress, but then thinking about it, that I’m sooner or later going to be with them again [in heaven], and they’re in peace, and they’re not suffering - that makes me feel better.

Q. You said you are thinking about training to become a nurse now?

A. I want to be prepared better to help people.

Q. Many nursing assistants are probably not as positive about the work as you are. How do you stay so upbeat?

A. Probably they’re in the wrong place - it’s the wrong job for them. When I used to work in the company, sometimes I don’t want to go to work. But working with hospice is something that I love to do. And if I have to wake up at 4 o’clock in the morning, 3 o’clock in the morning, I don’t mind, I just do it.

KAREN WEINTRAUB

Interview has been edited and condensed. Karen Weintraub can be reached at karen@karenweintraub.com.

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