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Vital Signs: Local center makes caring for caregivers easier

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a third of family caregivers report difficulty finding personal time and managing emotional and physical stress. That fact is one of the reasons why Sentara Martha Jefferson Hospital opened its Caregiver Center in June 2020. The Caregiver Center is a space dedicated to the support and well-being of family caregivers who provide for a loved one confronted with an illness.

The SMJH Caregiver Center is part of the Ken Hamilton Caregiver Center Consortium, having replicated the program at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, New York. We are the 16th of 24 hospitals in the country to partner with this group of Caregiver Centers.

This valuable program is funded by the generous philanthropic support of our community through the Martha Jefferson Hospital Foundation (visit for details) and is a resource for all caregivers, whether their loved one is receiving care from one of our Sentara medical facilities or elsewhere in our community.

Understandably, the primary focus of any hospital and staff is patient care. However, often next to the patient are family caregivers providing support and reassurance to their loved ones, and they often need their own support and comfort. Studies continue to validate the need to support family caregivers. For example, recent data from the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP indicates that:

■ There are at least 53 million caregivers in the U.S.; in other words, nearly one in five people are caregivers.

■ The average duration of caregiving is 4.5 years, with 29% providing care for more than five years.

■ 7 in 10 caregivers have no paid help. Without adequate and affordable services and support, the demands on caregivers contribute to their own physical, emotional and financial strain and decline.

■ The annual economic value of caregivers in the U.S .is recently estimated at $375 million, making them critical to our health system.

This free hospital-based program offers help from trained volunteers with no agenda other than to be a non-judgmental listening ear and support to family caregivers who may sometimes feel overwhelmed, isolated and helpless in their journey.

This Caregiver Center is led by a coordinator responsible for the volunteers’ recruitment, training and retention. These volunteers, known as Caregiver Partners, “round” in the clinical areas to find the caregivers where they are.

They introduce themselves to the patient and the family and try to establish a connection with the family member. These connections can take various forms and may include helping the caregiver navigate the healthcare system, assisting with family concerns and conflicts, sharing community resources and reminding of the need for self-care. In addition, the volunteers make the caregivers aware of the Caregiver Center and encourage them to visit for a break and a place to recharge. Conveniently located off the main lobby between the hospital gift shop and Cancer Center, the Caregiver Center is accessible from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

The physical center, a true oasis by design, is intended to feel quite different from any other hospital space. The Caregiver Center is a tranquil and private environment where caregivers can close their eyes, get a snack, access a computer, or sit in a massage chair to de-stress and re-energize. In addition, the coordinator and trained volunteers are available to help caregivers manage some of their daily challenges while offering emotional support and encouragement. These services are offered even after discharge from the hospital, as caregivers are encouraged to call or return to the Center throughout their caregiving journey.

While primarily designed for family caregivers, the Caregiver Center also offers support to our professional caregivers, who may need help if they, too, are taking care of a loved one when not at work. The COVID-19 pandemic heightened the importance of helping our professional caregivers who arrive at work with their own stressors related to family caregiving. The Caregiver Center offers them a space to take care of themselves so they can better care for their patients.

For more information about the SMJH Caregiver Center, please contact Katy Kreienbaum at or 434-654-7991. Community members are welcome to visit the Center in person from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.


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