Marian Hamilton and The Ken Hamilton Caregiver Center

A private sanctuary for caregivers eases the everyday stress associated with the care of ailing loved ones.

Unsung Heroes

Imagine having a break in your day, time so precious you can have a moment all to yourself to escape, relax, and recharge. This momentary freedom is appreciated beyond measure by family members whose lives have been dramatically altered to become the courageous caregivers of loved ones with serious illnesses or injuries.

Caregivers give their all to support the physical and well-being needs of loved ones. Caregiving is more than a loving, noble, selfless act —it speaks of endurance when courage and strength seem exhausted.

But usually, one dives into their newfound role and then realizes how inadequate they are to take on the responsibility. Their own lives become disrupted even to forgo paid work to accommodate the needs of the loved one. Exhaustion, stress, frustration, anxiety, isolation, and depression often creep into a caregiver’s life. Patience and fortitude become precious commodities to survive caregiving. Where does one turn for help?

Roughly one third of family caregivers have difficulty in finding personal time and managing emotional and physical stress according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Over half of family caregivers report their health worsened while caregiving, and two-thirds delay seeing a doctor due to caregiving responsibilities. Half the caregivers report seeking guidance in caring for the loved one and themselves. It is estimated that 64 million Americans are in a caregiving role.

Inspired by Experience

Marian Hamilton is one of those brave souls who took on the caregiving challenge. In 2002, her husband, Ken, had been diagnosed with mesothelioma and was a patient at several hospitals in the NY Metropolitan area. For the next two years, Marian dedicated her time to caring for him and raising their two teen girls. During that time, she says, “Nobody cared about my well-being. I gained 20 pounds and went on anti-depressants.” She was overwhelmed with navigating through the healthcare system, prognosis, and facing life-altering decisions.

Her pivotal moment came when she was in a hospital lobby and received the news that her husband’s cancer returned. She broke down crying and no one came to her to help, give support, or say anything to her. She realized hospitals lacked a way to help families in moments of crisis.

Her own experience inspired her to ensure others did not have to go it alone as she did. In 2004, she decided to shape her idea into action. She thought of a place where caregivers could get the care they needed through counseling, support, and direction —a comfort zone within hospitals where they could get the help they needed. She approached NWH in 2005 and they took interest in her idea to set up a support program helping to guide caregivers through the demands of their role.

An Oasis of Calm

Hamilton founded the Ken Hamilton Caregivers Center (KHCC) at NWH in 2006, the first in-hospital facility of its kind in the New York Metropolitan area and, possibly, the entire United States. Its doors opened to serve the community in 2007. Funded through partnerships within the community, the center was designed as a tranquil oasis of rest and relief for the caregiver. Social workers oversee the day-to-day operations and counsel as needed, and there is a growing team of trained caregiver coaches providing support and encouragement.

Services are offered free for anyone caring for a loved one regardless if they are a patient in the hospital. The center holds care meetings, discussions, and covers planning for end of life, discharge, and advance directives. A Caregivers Support Program offers counseling, community referrals, and other services for individual support. Caregivers enjoy the homelike setting that has a reclining massage chair, desk area with office equipment, and kitchenette stocked with healthy treats. The calming center proves to be an invaluable resource for caregivers.

KHCC has received many awards such as the Best Practice Program for the Caregivers Action Network and Quality of Life Award from the United Way. Hamilton was awarded Caregiver of the Year by Caregiver Action Network in 2014 and was named one of the 2016 Women of Worth by L’Oréal Paris.

The center added another program in 2015 called Stay in Touch which provides post-discharge phone support to caregivers. With hospital stays being shortened, the role of caregivers becomes even more critical, and with it, greater stress and isolation. Stay in Touch helps bring relief to caregivers for as long as they want.

A Testament of Success

Over the years, the center has grown from three to 34 trained volunteer coaches. Families served grew from 500 a year to over 8,000 a year. The staggering number indicates how much of a need there is for such a center.

With the successful impact KHCC was having on the community, its mission became clear —to share its model with other hospitals looking to implement a caregiver support program. KHCC developed a formal Replication Program including a startup kit. Twenty-one hospitals around the country have successfully implemented KHCC’s model.

KHCC formed the Caregivers Center Consortium to create bonds between replicated facilities. The consortium shares best practices and continues to develop programs beneficial for caregivers and their families. Twice a year, the consortium hosts symposiums where new initiatives are shared.

“Who knew that after losing my husband in my 50s, I had it in me to start Caregivers Centers in hospitals, which support families at the darkest moments of caring for an ailing loved one?” she shares with Good Housekeeping magazine, and continues, “my lifelong experience with community organizations has enabled me to connect better with others and work for social change. I adore being the elder stateswoman — and I found love again, too!” Hamilton continues working for the center in capacities of developer, acting director, advocate, and program ambassador.

Caregivers serve a purpose that go beyond the bounds of love and care. As an underserved population, these unsung heroes deserve the support needed to keep themselves well so that they can continue taking care of others. If you’re a caregiver in need help or think your community hospital could benefit from having the Ken Hamilton Caregivers Center model, get more information at the NWH website.