From left, Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial Chief Nursing Officer Meleah Mariani; Deb Sprague, Spectrum Health improvement specialist, Patient and Family Advocacy Councils; Barb Geno, recipient of the Spectrum Health ACE award in the volunteer category; and Sharon Boczkaja, Gerber Memorial’s senior patient experience specialist.
Longtime Gerber Memorial volunteer, patient advocate honored with Spectrum Health ACE Award
Fremont – Barb Geno, a White Cloud resident who was one of the founding members of Spectrum Health Gerber Memorial’s board advocating for patients, has been recognized with the Spectrum Health system’s ACE Award. Honored in the Volunteer Category of the Achieving Continuous Excellence, or ACE, Award, Geno was cited for going “above and beyond the call of duty, has a strong commitment to Spectrum Health and whose ‘volunteer story’ is an inspiration to many.”
“Volunteering at Gerber Memorial is such a pleasure, just a joy to do,” Geno said after receiving her award on June 14 at Gerber Memorial. “I always say that I get back so much more from volunteering at Gerber Memorial than I give. What’s important to always remember is that people who come to the hospital are often not in the best place in their lives, they face challenges, and as a volunteer, I hope to do as much as I can to make their visit as pleasant as possible under the circumstances.”
Spectrum Health representatives traveled to Fremont to present Geno with the award earlier in the summer.
Gerber Memorial President Randy Stasik said: “Barb Geno has truly been a strong advocate for patients. As a board member, Barb constantly challenges us to put patients first. As a volunteer, she goes above and beyond to create an exceptional patient experience. Gerber Memorial congratulates Barb for her well-deserved recognition.”
Geno herself has a lifelong relationship with Gerber Memorial, having been born there in 1955.
“Gerber Memorial is truly an asset to our community,” she said. “The physicians, nurses, staff and volunteers do so much for the families in our small rural community. For many services, people don’t have to travel outside the community for excellent care that they can get right here. Being a volunteer is one small way I can give back to this hospital and to our community.”
Geno was selected as recipient of the award in the volunteer category based on her commitment to excellence, accountability, compassion, integrity, respect and teamwork. Her nominating petition said Geno “expects excellent services for the residents of the service area” and is the “first one to be a part of the process improvement efforts at Gerber, holding the organization accountable to bring consistent standards to everyone.”
Geno first started volunteering at Gerber Memorial in 2007 with her therapy dog, Maggie. Today, she has four therapy dogs, all Labrador retrievers, who are regular visitors to the hospital.
“Our therapy dogs really connect with patients and provide comfort and stress-relief for so many people,” Geno said. “They really are very special animals. Even though they’re dogs, they have a lot of empathy for patients and it’s so rewarding to see them bring a smile to people’s faces.”
Among her many contributions to the community, Geno is a founding member of the Gerber Memorial Patient and Family Advisory Council formed in June 2011 and served as its chair from 2011 to 2014. Since 2013, Geno has been on the Gerber Memorial’s board of directors. She serves as the representative voice of patients on several hospital initiatives. She is a volunteer for HOPE Animal Assisted Crisis Response and NATIONAL Crisis Response Canines, national crisis response organizations with specially trained handlers and canines trained and tested for crisis response work; for West Michigan Therapy Dogs, serving in multiple roles, including as former president, training instructor and director of programs; and as a member of Pet Partners, an international pet therapy organization that is the leader in the field promoting the social, emotional and physical benefits of the human-animal bond.
In addition to Gerber Memorial, Geno and her therapy dogs also visited Spectrum Health Hospitals Butterworth Hospital, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, and Rehab-Nursing Centers in Grand Rapids.
Geno’s commitment to patient advocacy arose from her own experiences: In 2000, she was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma stage four and quickly took her healthcare into her own hands, becoming an advocate for herself. To this day, she remains focused on identifying what’s best for patients, and finding ways to put their needs and preferences first.
In Geno’s nomination, Gerber Memorial Chief Nursing Officer Meleah Mariani said: “Barb's work with the pet therapy program is just one example of how she demonstrates her commitment to heal the whole person. Barb and her team of furry friends have a powerful impact to bring life and energy back into someone who is tired, painful and ready to give up. She gives a great deal of time and love to others. We appreciate all she does and are fortunate to have her on our team.”
Geno’s award for volunteer of the year was one of seven categories in the ACE Award. The recognition has been given out for 14 years to physicians, staff and volunteers who demonstrate an ongoing commitment to the values that define Spectrum Health – compassion, excellence, accountability, integrity, respect and teamwork