Denise Cox was in her early 20s when she started working as a caregiver. She was drawn to the work because of her love and respect for her own grandparents. Cox, 49, is still at it, managing patient care as well as a team of caregivers as a lifecare manager at Arosa in Palm Desert.
“The passion I have for the senior community, it’s never wavered,” Cox said.
She was recently recognized for her commitment to the field with a Ceca Award for “caregiver excellence.” Cox was nominated for the industry award by her colleagues at Arosa, which offers care management and caregiving services.
“I just was floored,” Cox recalled. The announcement was made during a recent monthly staff meeting. “It was very humbling to me,” she said, especially because she relies so much on the work of her peers.
“I can’t do what I do without my team,” she said. “I wish that every one of my teammates, my caregivers, that they could all win the award because it really is a team effort.”
Caregivers and health care workers who consistently go “above and beyond” for their patients may feel it is just part of their jobs, but their work “transforms peoples’ lives,” said Nate Hamme, president of the Ceca Foundation, the nonprofit behind the award program. The Ceca Foundation partners with organizations and companies in 15 states to help them with employee recognition by providing a nomination platform and sharing best practices, Hamme said.
The Ceca Award comes with $250, but, Hamme said, it is the recognition that is most meaningful. As a helping profession, he added, caregivers are some of the most deserving of the accolades.
“I have trouble thinking of any profession that really makes a bigger impact on peoples’ lives,” Hamme said.
National Caregivers Day was started seven years for this very same reason. It is observed the third Friday in February — Feb. 18 this year.
“It’s not just another day,” Cox said. “It’s recognizing all of the caregivers and the hard work that they provide day in and day out. It means a lot.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has been especially difficult for caregivers and a major demographic they serve: seniors.
Cox has taken her role as a care manager seriously, taking ice cream to seniors in the middle of the night and buying groceries or running other errands even when she isn’t technically at work.
“She really gives more than 100% to clients and to caregivers,” said Leslie Saller, office manager at Arosa in Palm Desert. Saller described her coworker as “personable.”
“When a client calls and they’re having a birthday or anniversary or something is going on, she’s the first to be there, night or day, 24/7,” Saller said. Cox makes them feel heard and cared for — and they are, according to Saller.
The work week ranges between 40 and 60 hours a week, Cox said, depending on the ever-changing needs of patients.
“Whatever I can do to make them happy, especially in these past couple of years with the pandemic,” Cox said. Cox and her team saw the fear, anxiety and isolation that the seniors they care for experienced, she said.
“I treat my clients the way I would want to be treated,” or even the way she would like her own parents to be treated, she added.
“Some people do deserve the honors they get and Denise is one of them,” Saller said.
“I feel so much gratitude, especially with what we have been through in our health care industry,” Cox said.
Hamme sees recognition programs like Ceca Foundation as one of the ways employers can improve job satisfaction, work culture and, ultimately, employee retention and engagement.
Employment in the health care industry was down 2.3% last month compared to February 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“We would love to see some action both on the policy side and on the business side that would allow (caregivers) to be paid more, but we like to think that we’re one of the important tools in the toolbelt here,” Hamme said. “That this isn’t just about money — it’s about people seeing what they do as a calling and making sure they don’t decide to do something else just because it’s easier.”
Cox has difficult days, but, she said, she’s committed to her work. She overcomes her own pandemic anxiety by focusing on her goals and consistently checking in on her team members.
“I do get emotional,” Cox said. “Each client of ours, they are not a cookie cutter of the previous, they’re human beings.” She really gets to know her clients, she said, and builds relationships with them.
To be awarded for that work, she added, “says ‘we see you, we acknowledge you, we appreciate you.'”
Maria Sestito covers issues of aging in the Coachella Valley. She is also a Report for America corps member. Follow her on Twitter @RiaSestito, on Instagram @RiaSestito_Reporter or email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.