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Home Health Foundation Receives Two Innovation and Star Awards from Home Care Alliance of Massachusetts

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Bernice Burkarth, MD named Physician of the Year and
High Pointe House Precaution Suite earns Innovative Team Award

Lawrence, Mass. Home Care Alliance of Massachusetts today honored the nonprofit agencies of Home Health Foundation with two Innovation and Star Awards. Bernice Burkarth, MD, HMDC, FAAHPM was named Physician of the Year, and the High Pointe House Precaution Suite was presented with the Innovative Team Award.

Each year, Home Care Alliance of Massachusetts honors the best and brightest in the industry with its Innovation and Star Awards. This event celebrates the hard work, resilience, innovation and dedication in the home care, hospice and home health care communities.

According to Pat Kelleher, executive director of Home Care Alliance of Massachusetts, the awards program provides well-deserved recognition.

“Together, as a healthcare community, we celebrate our people and our pioneers by recognizing how they make life better for thousands of patients and their families,” Kelleher said. “The Innovation and Star Awards celebrate the exceptional accomplishments of the everyday heroes in our midst who make incredible differences in the lives of their patients/clients and their families.”

“It is an honor to work alongside not only Dr. Burkarth and the High Pointe House team, but also each and every one of our healthcare professionals here at Home Health Foundation,” said Home Health Foundation President and CEO Karen Gomes, RN, MS, CPHQ. “This recognition is testament to the hard work and dedication of our entire organization. We are thrilled to take this time to highlight both Dr. Burkarth and High Pointe House for their part in our success.”

Physician of the Year: Dr. Bernice Burkarth

Dr. Burkarth is chief medical officer of Merrimack Valley Hospice, a nonprofit agency of Home Health Foundation and part of the Wellforce health system. In addition to supporting the community hospice and palliative care program, she oversees High Pointe House, a Haverhill, Mass.-based hospice and palliative residence which provides advanced pain and symptom management, comprehensive end-of-life care and grief, bereavement and spiritual services.

To meet the needs of patients and the wider community during the pandemic, Dr. Burkarth and her team conducted exhaustive planning to provide optimal care for individuals with COVID-19, as well as all who turn to Merrimack Valley Hospice at end of life for unparalleled quality, compassionate care. As a result, High Pointe House became the first hospice house in Massachusetts to open a special unit for end-of-life patients who are also COVID-19 positive.

Dr. Burkarth additionally recognized the need for a hybrid model of care, leading to the adoption of telehealth visits for hospice and palliative patients – which had the dual effect of relieving homebound patients’ pandemic-induced isolation. Nursing assessments, volunteer visits, music therapy and interactions with a patient’s loved ones all occurred via video tablet due to her vision.

Dr. Burkarth remains a prominent and respected leader, sharing her expertise with the virus, vaccine facts and best safety practices in a myriad of forums including two episodes of the Home Health Foundation podcast “Compassionate Journeys: Conversations About Home Health and Hospice.”

Dr. Burkarth earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology at Brown University and her medical degree at Temple University School of Medicine, and she completed her residency in neurosurgery at Albany Medical Center. She obtained hospice medical director certification in 2014 and American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine fellowship status in 2017. Dr. Burkarth, who has more than 15 years of experience in hospice and palliative care, has served as chair of the MyNHPCO (National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization) Physician and Advanced Practice Provider Community Steering Committee since December 2016. In addition to her primary language of English, she speaks Spanish fluently.

Innovative Team Award: High Pointe House Precaution Suite

In April 2020, High Pointe House opened its special suite for end-of-life patients who were also diagnosed with COVID-19. This suite remained separate from other patient areas within the acute care hospice residence, providing critical access to all patients in need throughout the height of the pandemic.

As recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, healthcare professionals were properly equipped with protective personal equipment, including an N95 mask, face shield, gloves and gown.

Linda Miller, RN, clinical director of High Pointe House, said, “I’m proud of our clinicians and support staff alike for applying their ingenuity, instincts and skills to develop new and innovative ways for our team to meet this health crisis head on, while keeping patients and their families at the center of everything we do.”

About Merrimack Valley Hospice

Merrimack Valley Hospice is a not-for-profit agency providing comfort care and supportive services to patients nearing the end of life and bereavement services to their families and loved ones. Together with Home Health VNA, the agencies provide a full continuum of home health and hospice care in more than 110 communities throughout northeastern Massachusetts, southern New Hampshire and southern Maine as York Hospital Hospice. For more information, visit MerrimackValleyHospice.org.

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