The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

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March 29, 2014

Conference cares for the caregivers

Nurses, social workers and other caregivers gathered Friday at the Raleigh County Commission on Aging to learn ways of dealing with the stresses that come from taking care of another family member, friend or client.  

Hospice of Southern West Virginia and the Raleigh County Commission on Aging (COA), with the help of local sponsors, presented this free conference as a way to give back to the caregivers of the community.

Crystal Foley, a COA social worker, described the aim of the conference.

“We usually focus on trying to reduce that stress and the burnout and give them a way to make sure that they take care of themselves and that enables them to be able to take care of their loved one or their client better.

“We try to offer more resources for those that are in the area. It can be on a private basis. Just somebody taking care of their loved ones or they can be professional caregivers. The caregiver conference is once every year, usually held around the end of March, and then we have another one that is held in September, the Elder Abuse Conference.”

Experts say that taking care of other people can be challenging and may affect a caregiver’s health. Terry Tilley, a registered nurse and the COA’s adult day care director, says that they offer this conference and other programs throughout the year to educate caregivers on how to deal with stress.

“We have tried to bring together professional and unpaid family caregivers so that they can get some information and support and learn, from professionals, better ways to deal with being a caregiver. There are a lot of caregivers now. You hardly ever talk to a family that there isn’t somebody that needs a caregiver. We think it’s a very important event,” Tilley said.

“We have several things that we do for caregivers (outside of this event). We have programs that the state funds that give Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers a break. We also have adult day care where we give caregivers a break. We have an Alzheimer’s support group, they can come in and support each other and talk to each other and get some suggestions. They will often arrange to have somebody else with that person while they are in the support group.

“When I started that group I was a little afraid that it would become a gripe session, but often they talk to each other and they laugh and tell me that it was a good meeting and sometimes the word Alzheimer’s doesn’t even come up.”

Friday’s event had three speakers throughout the day. Hamlet Smith, Amy Ernst and Dr. Arnold Simonse all were scheduled to give presentations on subjects related to caring for others including everything from dealing with stress to addressing spirituality.

Smith, director of Life Strategies Counseling Services, spoke the first half of the day about how traumatic caring for others can be.

“Social workers, especially, bear the brunt of interaction in helping people in southern West Virginia. They are the people who interact with people every day in difficult situations. This conference is really good for getting us together to talk about ways that we can do self-care. That’s the focus of my speech, who helps the people that are helping people?

“Social workers do a fabulous job here of taking care of people that are hurting. They need these opportunities to recharge and rethink their own lives. My subject is vicarious trauma and the whole idea behind that is, as professionals, when we are exposed to trauma on a daily basis, we can sometimes have post-traumatic stress disorder ourselves just as a consequence of day-in and day-out, listening to some of the graphic details of people that are hurting.

“It’s universal, you don’t have to be a social worker, you don’t have to be a first responder or a nurse that’s working with trauma patients all the time. We all deal with a level of stress in our lives. I think we are all hungry, looking for ways to do something different with our lives, think differently, feel differently… who doesn’t want to enjoy this life that we’ve got? I think that’s what this conference is about, helping us figure out ways to enjoy our life.”

Smith works as a mental health therapist in the Fayette County school system and has previously worked as a therapist in Beckley Appalachian Regional Health Sciences Center and with FMRS Health systems.

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A lot of people in attendance were from the social work field. Christina Bailey, social worker at Raleigh General Hospital, explained why this event was important event for her.

“As part of having a social work license we are required to have continuing education annually. One reason (I came today) is I look for local opportunities to get those CEUs and this is one that is local and is provided free of charge, so that is a double bonus. They always have great topics and speakers so it’s a great learning opportunity that is usually applicable to my job.

“I’m really enjoying Hamlet Smith, I’ve known him a long time but I’ve never attended one of his workshops. So even though I’ve worked with and around him for 15 years, this is the first time that I have really heard him speak so I’m enjoying it.”

Raleigh County Commission on Aging executive director Jack Tanner said he was happy with the success of this program.

“We’ve had this conference for seven years or more now and it is primarily for the professionals in the fields of taking care of other folks,” Tanner said. “It’s a terrific conference, it’s well-attended, we’ve always had more people applying to register than we can accommodate here and we feel that we have the best of presenters and speakers to talk about the issues that are important to the social workers and nurses.”

 Joshua Jones, public relations director at Hospice of Southern West Virginia, said that the event is something Hospice can do to give back to the caregivers of the area.

“We really think it’s a wonderful gift to the community. We offer this free of charge to not only nurses and social workers in the area, but we also offer it to the caregivers in the community, those that are maybe taking care of a loved one. This gives them advice on how they can handle not only dealing with the person they care for, but also dealing with themselves and how to handle the stress and … all of the tough times that come with being a caregiver.”

The Compassionate Caregiver Conference was sponsored by Raleigh General Hospital, The Villages at Greystone, Genesis HealthCare and Jan-Care Ambulance Service.

For more information on this conference or the upcoming free Alzheimer’s seminar, visit or contact Terry Tilley at

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