Middlebury Rotary Club honors outstanding leaders
Deb Wesley was out in the rain, snow, sleet, hail and mud delivering vaccines to patients who live in locations where your GPS does not even register.
— Rotary President Maureen Conrad
MIDDLEBURY — The Rotary Club of Middlebury last week honored three outstanding nonprofit leaders who gave much to their community this past pandemic year. Heidi Sulis of the Open Door Clinic, Liza Eddy of Porter Medical Center, and Deb Wesley of Addison County Home Health and Hospice were each awarded Rotary’s prestigious Buster Brush Award for Community Service.
For people working in health care this past year was extraordinary in every way, Rotary Club officials noted, and the local club’s members expressed their gratitude to all those who tirelessly did so much, week-in and week-out, to keep us all safe from COVID-19 and see us through the pandemic.
Sulis, Eddy and Wesley exemplify the power of commitment, leadership and heart to help those most in need during this difficult year, Rotary officials said. Their individual and collective efforts, and those of their organizations, made all the difference to our communities in the face of the pandemic’s uncertainty, challenges and heartaches.
Heidi Sulis has spent her professional life working for the greater good, so it is no surprise to those who know her that when COVID-19 made its presence known, she focused on those who might otherwise be overlooked. As the executive director of the Open Door Clinic, Sulis leads an organization that provides health care to the uninsured and underinsured. She has paid particular attention to the migrant farm workers in our county who often slip through the cracks.
“Heidi has fearlessly led the clinic, moving it in new directions wearing a cloak of ‘Let’s try it for six months,’” said Julia Coutet, an outreach nurse at the Open Door Clinic. “This flexibility and adaptability were particularly valuable in a time as crazy as a global pandemic. Many organizations pulled through the pandemic, but due to Heidi’s insightful leadership, the Open Door Clinic has thrived.”
Rotary honored Liza Eddy, RN, of Porter Medical Center for stepping up again and again to help others navigate the confusing — and often frightening — new world that arrived in March 2020.
“From the earliest days of the pandemic, Liza’s work ethic and high degree of commitment was key to Porter’s successful response to the threat of a novel disease,” says Dr. Anna Benvenuto, MD, chief medical officer at Porter. “We all were better off because of Liza’s relentless attention to detail. Her work was critical to the success of our drive-through testing center and in Porter’s vaccination clinics.”
Deb Wesley is a master’s-level RN with a background in oncology. Whenever she is introduced as the CEO of Addison County Home Health & Hospice (ACHHH), she gently corrects the speaker: “I’m a nurse.” Her natural ability to care for ACHHH patients and staff alike has all the earmarks of a top-flight nurse.
Wesley dealt with the pandemic with a sure hand, scientific knowledge, and a sense of humor — early on, she ordered pool noodles to help staffers stay six feet apart. A measure of her attention to listening to people to best care for them, she tested all 102 employees plus volunteers every week so she could chat with them and find out how they were doing.
With a surety of purpose, Wesley negotiated ACHHH’s purchase of the Medicine Chest medical supply business when she realized that this vital local resource would be closing. The deal took only five weeks start to finish.
When the COVID vaccine rollout began, Wesley advocated at the state level for the Visiting Nurse Associations, in conjunction with local emergency medical services agencies, to be responsible for administering vaccines to homebound patients. And as the at-home vaccinations rolled out, she realized her staffers were already working at or beyond capacity. And so, while managing a $9 million agency with 102 employees, she took it upon herself to administer 887 COVID-19 vaccines to homebound patients in Addison County.
“She was out in the rain, snow, sleet, hail and mud (just like her clinicians) delivering vaccines to patients who live in locations where your GPS does not even register,” said Rotary President Maureen Conrad. “Deb works harder than any three people I know. She possesses clinical knowledge, financial acumen, good judgment and warmth that is infectious.”
Fletcher Roy “Buster” Brush was a valued member of the Rotary Club of Middlebury until his untimely death from a heart attack at age 59 in 2008. Buster exemplified Rotary’s motto: “Service above self.” He served as president of the club in 1987-1988.
Buster Brush spent decades tirelessly working for myriad community, historical, athletic, youth and safety causes at the local, county and state levels. More importantly, he was a mentor to hundreds and a friend to thousands, always ready with open arms and a strong shoulder for those in need.
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