Shirley LaPiana-Martin has recently been elected to The Health Collaborative Board of Directors to provide a healthcare consumer point of view.
While the consumer voice has been represented previously by community agencies, this is the first time in the organization’s history a direct consumer has been elected to serve. Martin’s personal experience of navigating a highly complex healthcare systems makes her the ideal candidate to fill this seat. Martin’s husband of 35 years, Russell, was diagnosed with multiple medical conditions including dementia, heart disease, leukemia, and skin cancers. She quickly learned to be a vocal advocate for Russell, to ask questions and try to bridge the silos within which his multiple specialists functioned. Read more about their journey in the press release on our blog.
We spent time with Shirley for a quick Q & A to find out what makes her tick and why she’s so passionate about giving back.
Q: Hi, Shirley! Welcome to The Health Collaborative family. Let’s begin by finding out what makes our mission meaningful to you?
A: My overall experience with healthcare both professionally and personally is that it is confusing and difficult to navigate. I come from a generation where medical professionals were highly respected and we didn’t ask a lot of questions. I’ve learned questions are important. My perspective is that people get into healthcare for good reasons but tend to get siloed. Sharing data and enabling a more rapid transfer of information seems incredibly important to me; I feel we can do better. Let’s let the doctors have time to be doctors while getting the information they need when they need it.
Q. Tell us about a current activity or project you’re working on, or involved in.
A: I’m retired, and the current project is renovating a condominium – to be clear, I’m not the remodeler but have put some sweat equity into it!
I also volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association’s “Memories in the Making” program, helping the artist who runs it. One of the biggest challenges of being a full-time caregiver is that most support groups don’t provide care for the dementia patient while their caregiver is attending a group session. This program offers time for caregivers to spend with licensed social workers to share info, experiences, and just vent, while at the same time their loved ones do an art therapy program. Whatever the person’s abilities, they create artwork. The artist helps but doesn’t direct them – she lets them do what they’re capable of and pursue their own vision for the artwork. Some who have never held a brush or pen come up with amazing things. As a caregiver this program was my lifeline over a four-year period.
I also volunteer at the Loveland Food Pantry.
Q. Where did you grow up, and how has it shaped who you have become?
A: I grew up in Hornell, a town in western New York state about 60 miles south of Rochester. It’s a beautiful area near the Finger Lakes. I had what my generation would describe as a “Leave It to Beaver” childhood. My brother, friends and I could go up over the hill for the day and our moms didn’t worry. As an adult I still have an appreciation for the outdoors and nature.
Q. What’s your favorite stress-relieving activity, and why?
A: I walk a lot: my new condo backs onto Sharon Woods so I love to walk the trails. I try to meditate at least a few minutes a day, that was very useful as a caregiver and I still find it helpful.
Q. If you had a catch phrase, what would it be?
A: “Luckiest woman in the world” – I have had the most fortunate life, even this last change for me – selling my house so quickly after Russell’s death in August 2018 and having the perfect condo become available – I didn’t seek it out it all, it all just unfolded for me and I’m convinced my husband Russell had a hand in this and he’s “up there” laughing!
Q. Where is your favorite vacation spot? Or, tell us a bit about your most favorite vacation ever.
A: I love, love, love Paris! This year, however, I’m taking a vacation that Russell and I had started to plan but never got to take: I’m going to Italy and taking my brother & sister-in-law, who were taking care of our mother at the same time my husband was sick. I’ve never met anybody who’s been to Italy who doesn’t say it’s incredible. One more favorite place: when I went to the Grand Canyon, all I could say was “wow” – until you see it you just don’t understand the scale.
Q. What is the best Girl Scout cookie and why?
A. That would have to be Samoas! These days I’ve restricted myself to buying one box a year and then donating to my local Girl Scout troop so I’m not tempted.
Q. What do you think is our biggest opportunity at THC to improve health in our region?
A. I would say anything that helps give children a healthier start. I think by the time somebody is 20 or 25 in many cases it’s too late [to change their habits]. I think habits from childhood become habits for a lifetime. Whether it’s recipes from the food pantry, or health screenings, I would support anything that can help children. When I worked for Paycor we were involved with Oyler School, and as a social hub it had a great model for involving family, making sure kids got healthcare and decent food.
Any final thoughts?
One thing: Russell was one of the healthiest people I ever knew – he golfed, played tennis, boxed, he exercised during the entire 40 years I knew him, he never smoked, and drank very lightly. Healthy living goes a long way but there is also a genetic component we can’t discount. I believe the quality medical care he received gave us ten years we wouldn’t have otherwise had, but I also think there is a genetic component to health that is out of our control.