Fred Waters, Radiology Tech, Kindred Hospital St. Louis and 2020 Paul Diaz Caring Award recipient

In a recent visit to see a patient, “James,” Fred Waters strolled in with one hand behind his back, awkwardly concealing a 36” X 24” painting. Fred, a Radiology Tech at Kindred Hospital St. Louis, said he was delivering on his promise to cheer the patient up and then presented a Star Trek-themed painting he created especially for James, a Trekie fan. He even promised additional art for James’ “man cave” at home.

“This will brighten your room up a little bit and let you know we’re thinking of you, we love you and we’re going to take care of you,” Fred told James. “You’re not in this fight alone.”

James, unable to talk while on a respirator, gave Fred a fist bump, a handshake and a few smiles.

“Patients absolutely love his paintings,” said Kristi Vrtiska, Chief Clinical Officer at the hospital. “If you can put yourself in a patient’s position, they are vulnerable, they are sick, they aren’t able to do things for themselves and now with COVID, they don’t even get visitors very often. He can give them a painting and it completely brightens their day. So, he makes a true impact on our patients by doing this out of the kindness of his heart.”

What’s even more remarkable is that Fred does this for many of his patients, and has done so for several years. He does it on his own time with supplies he buys from proceeds of sales of his other artwork.

“If a patient is laying in the bed, all they can do is see the same wall, looking at the clock and the television,” explained Fred. “So, what I do is go in and talk to them, get to know them, ask them what they like or dislike – a lot of them miss home and I ask them about it. So, I paint them a painting, and sometimes more than one.

“It helps to motivate them, lets them know that we care. The paintings aren’t from me, I tell them they are from Kindred. We want to give you this, we are here for you, we love you and we want to get you home.“

Fred’s gift of art is the most visual of many examples of his going above and beyond in his role as a Kindred caregiver. He’s also known to do just about anything for his team members and even those in need outside the hospital walls.

“He’s always helpful,” said Michelle Stafford, Environmental Services Aide at the hospital. “Fred would take the shirt off his back and give it to anyone. He shows his love through the paintings he paints for the patients here. He’ll also volunteer for any department where help is needed. Fred is a wonderful, all-around guy.”

Today, Fred is also a 2020 recipient of the Paul Diaz Caring Award, Kindred’s highest honor presented annually to its standout caregivers. He was nominated by the hospital’s CEO, Kevin Shrake.

“I can’t think of anyone who exemplifies our Core Values like Fred,” Kevin said. “He truly lives them with his actions and not just his words.”

Fred said he was first surprised at the nomination – saying he was just doing his job and there were others at the hospital who deserved the honor – but also appreciative.

“It means a lot. It makes me feel like my work isn’t in vain,” said Fred. “I enjoy my work and love coming to work. I don’t think I’ve ever woke up and thought I don’t want to come to work, I just enjoy coming here, and this makes me feel like hey, my work isn’t in vain.”

His work also isn’t limited to images, whether x-rays or paintings. In the nomination, Kevin noted that Fred’s service extended beyond his “great skills as a radiology technician” to pitching in on everything from moving furniture, taking trash to the dumpster, serving food on the cafeteria line and making appointments for patients to go on visits outside of the hospital.

“Whatever it is, Fred is willing to help his coworkers and serve our patients and the families that support them in a special way,” said Kevin.

One example cited is Fred’s penchant for coming to work at 5 a.m. – a couple of hours early – to scrape snow and ice off of team members’ cars so they can get home quicker after pulling a 12-hour shift. Fred said it’s now kind of expected, but others are chipping in.

“Things like that are contagious,” said Fred. “If you have a great attitude, other people pick up on it. If I’m not here, other people will do it. Most of the gentlemen here will now do it.”

“Fred’s the kind of guy where you could be stranded on a highway waiting for another to assist you and he can see the expression on your face, and say ‘Can I help you with anything, Rachel, and I’ll say sure,’” said Rachel Williams, a nurse at the hospital. “Whether it’s in his job description or not, if you are ever looking for help, he brings it.”

The nomination also highlighted Fred’s efforts that impact those who reside near the hospital in the Central West End area of St. Louis. Fred will pay those in need to help him set up his art exhibits, buy them lunch at the hospital’s cafeteria, help them with hospital-led food and clothing drives, and even invite them as guests to hospital holiday functions.

“Now, they kind of look at Kindred as a place where if we need something, we can go there… they treat us as friends now,” said Fred. “They know that they can always come here and we will take care of them.”

To Fred. It’s all about Being Kinder than Expected, a core value he’s been living for his 23+ years at Kindred, dating back to before it was a core value.

“It’s like a way of life – you’ve got to treat people the way you want to be treated,” Fred said. “Everybody expects someone to be kind, but if you automatically be kind – and do what you know that suits that person to the best ability – you are treating someone the way you want to be treated.”

His CEO says the example he sets is as important as his amazing deeds.

“It is a blessing to have Fred Waters on our team,” said Kevin. “He is the ultimate servant leader. He lives his core values with his actions, and he truly wants to make a difference.

“But in thinking about how much of an impact Fred has on our organization, I’m going to suggest that his greater impact is not what he personally does, it is the role model that he establishes for other people in our organization – by other people wanting to be like him, and emulating his characteristics. It raises the overall bar of our organization to a level that’s amazing, and for that we are very blessed to have Fred here with us.”

Fred was one of three Kindred caregivers selected for the Paul Diaz Caring Award from among 92 worthy nominees, joining 2020 recipients Donna Crowley, Unit Secretary at Kindred Hospital St. Louis South, and Carole Fryberger, Lead Respiratory Therapist at Lancaster Rehabilitation Hospital.

Each were honored in a virtual event on March 12. They received a cash prize, a certificate and the glass Caring Award. In addition, their names are engraved on the legacy Paul Diaz Caring Award plaque that sits in the Kindred Support Center, and their photos and stories will hang upon the Caring Awards “Wall of Fame” within the facility. The awards are named after the inaugural winner and namesake of the award, former Kindred Chief Executive Officer Paul J. Diaz.

You can view Fred’s video story from the 2020 Paul Diaz Caring Awards here.

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