Carole Fryberger, Respiratory Therapist at Lancaster Rehabilitation Hospital and 2020 Paul Diaz Caring Award recipient

As the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc along the east coast and mid-Atlantic region last spring, Lancaster Rehabilitation Hospital in southeastern Pennsylvania became one of the first Kindred facilities to accept COVID-recovering and more complex patients to help take some of the stress off of ICUs at local hospitals.

Typically, the 59-bed inpatient rehabilitation facility will have only a handful of patients under respiratory care, but the influx of patients during the COVID surge sometimes pushed the number of trach patients to as many as 10, all under the care of Carole Fryberger, Respiratory Therapist at Lancaster.

She handled it, per Lancaster’s Clinical Liaison, Carolyn Collins, “with her usual smile and sense of ease.”

“I’ve been doing this for a long time and I just liken it back to when I had to treat TB patients and we had to be very careful with our PPE and things like that,” said Carole. “It’s being educated and smart in what we are doing and knowing that we have support from our leadership and we get what we need. So, in taking it with a level head and non-reactionary, I think it’s been fine.

“Staff, patients and family members have adjusted. It’s been very challenging and rewarding at the same time, because we’ve had very positive patient outcomes.”

Carole’s leadership during COVID – along with the compassionate care she provides on a daily basis – prompted Carolyn to nominate her for the Paul Diaz Caring Award, Kindred Healthcare’s highest honor presented annually to its top caregivers. Carole was recently announced as a 2020 recipient of the award.

“Quite frankly, it’s shocking,” remarked Carole, about being a finalist for the award. “I just do what I do in my own crazy way every day and I think I bring a little bit of hope to my patients and a little bit of crazy to the staff in the hospital and that’s just what I do.”

Said Carolyn, “I’ve been in healthcare for over 20 years, and most places I’ve worked had similar awards, but I’ve never nominated anyone. After reading the description, Carole just jumped out at me.

“Healthcare is very trying both physically and emotionally and it’s hard to keep that positivity and that understanding that although it is your job, it is your patient’s life – it’s their moment, and we need to make a difference in that moment. It’s very important for us as professionals and as healthcare providers to continue to look around us, to continue to strive to be better, and to also acknowledge those that still have that spring in their step, that are still able to leave their personal roles at home and really put forth that 150%... Carole does it with such ease.”

Several of her team members shared how well Carole works with patients and their family members. Lauren Hinde, RN and wound care coordinator, noted that Carole has used her own money to purchase equipment for patients to help in their transition home and readily volunteers to help them.

“Carole goes above and beyond for every patient, whether she’s assisting patients in the dining room or the hallways or various places or even just her compassion when working with her own patients,” said Lauren, who shares and office with Carole. “She typically will volunteer to go on appointments with our patients, especially if they have respiratory needs.”

Susan Babel, Nursing Supervisor, said Carole also goes out of her way to educate patients and family members to help them navigate the challenges of respiratory conditions.

“As a respiratory therapist, she’s very hands on with all of our trach patients and we do have some staff who are unsure how to handle or not comfortable with trachs,” Susan said. “She’s more than willing to step in educate the staff, educate family members, educate patients – anytime of the day – to do what’s necessary to ensure that our trach patients are receiving the proper kind of care and if they leave here with a trach, they understand how to handle it.”

She also readily changes her schedule to accommodate the arrival of a new patient, according to Liz Bebe, Chief Clinical Officer at Lancaster. She will even come in at 3 a.m. to lead a mock code drill for the night shift, per Susan.

Carole says it’s all in a days’ work for a job that’s been fulfilling since she began it eight years ago.

“It comes back to knowing that you are making a very positive difference,” she said. “I’ve done adult critical care, neo natal, air transport, etc., but the thing that is unique about rehabilitative care is I’d say it’s like the positivity of maternity – which is usually a very positive healthcare experience – and I think it’s the same with rehab. Patients come in broken and feeling helpless and we are able to mend them and give them hope and encouragement, and it’s really a positive environment.”

Carole gets plenty of credit for the positive environment at Lancaster Rehabilitation Hospital. She routinely brings in her home-grown flowers to receptionists, patients and staff. She plays an important role on the hospital’s core values committee. And, she brings her own brand of vibrancy to each shift.

“Carole is on our Core Six committee and she’s invaluable to that committee,” said Lauren. “She has lots of ideas – very funny, entertaining ideas. She is the one who helps celebrate small victories for patients and for staff members.

“We have a lot of fun. Carole definitely is a sounding board for me and she’s definitely one of my biggest cheerleaders through the various things I’ve done in my career.”

Added Crystal Jensen, Nurse Manager, “We always know that during our shift, we are going to have some sort of fun with Carole around. She’s always ready and willing to do something fun and exciting during the shift to break up the stressful situations that we may encounter throughout the day.”

Carole readily admits that Creating Fun in What You Do is her favorite Kindred core value.

“All of our values are excellent, and I’ve really had a good time with the monthly IRF RecognizeCORE competitions,” she said. “I’m very motivated by food, so the free meal (awarded to the winning IRF) was a driving factor. But everyone that knows me would know that for me it’s Create Fun in What You Do.”

Carole is likely having a little more fun today as one of three Kindred caregivers selected for the 2020 Paul Diaz Caring Award. She was chosen from among 92 worthy nominees, joining fellow 2020 recipients Donna Crowley, Unit Secretary at Kindred Hospital St. Louis South, and Fred Waters, Radiology Technician at Kindred Hospital St. Louis.

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 Carole’s video story from the 2020 Paul Diaz Caring Awards here.

"Caring means being sympathetic, empathetic and treating every patient like they are a family member – like I would give them the same kind of care I would want for my family member."

- Carole Fryberger

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