As Los Angeles County continues to see a rise in COVID-19 cases, Leeza’s Care Connection, in partnership with Burbank’s Providence St. Joseph Medical Center, remains a safe haven of far-reaching relief for personal and professional caregivers.
Leeza’s Care Connection was founded by Emmy award-winning media personality Leeza Gibbons following her mother’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis. In the midst of her family’s sorrow and feelings of isolation, Gibbons’ mother gave advice that would inspire her to utilize her storytelling abilities and translate the experience into a positive outlet.
“My mother said, ‘Honey, tell the story,’” Gibbons said. “That’s what you’ve been trained to do. You are a storyteller and you’ve done it with other people’s stories. Now, just do it with your story, with our story. And it was so wise and so simple.”
Gibbons subsequently started Leeza’s Care Connection in 2002 as a resource for caregivers in need of support. They currently offer numerous programs via their Burbank and South Carolina locations and supply wide-ranging resources of educational information. The organization has partnered with the Howard and Hycy Hill Neuroscience Institute at St. Joe’s to extend a helping hand to caregivers in need of assistance.
“Leeza’s Care Connection is a huge compliment to what we do down here over in neuroscience,” said Terry Walker, Director of Neuroscience Operations at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center. “We want to do this whole whole-person care, not just the physical diseases, but also the mental-emotional needs to get those addressed as well. And that’s why Leeza’s Care Connection is the perfect fit for us.”
And, with the COVID-19 pandemic shifting procedures for the majority of this year, the team at Leeza’s Care Connection has not only introduced virtual events and support groups, but they have also continued to offer services to St. Joe’s staff members who have been in vulnerable positions for the duration of the pandemic.
“Leeza’s Care Connection has helped not just within the medical center,” Walker said. “They’ve also expanded outside of the hospital. So this program is not specific to just the patients we see. It’s available to our physicians,…our caregivers, family members. It’s available to the community at large.”
Leeza’s Care Connection emphasizes a focus on strengthening the mind, body, and spirit to prevent burnout and compassion fatigue for caregivers after extended periods of stress without self-care. While many caregivers don’t set aside time to fulfill their own needs, the organization strives to educate visitors that they should take a break to care for themselves in order to be able to serve others.
“Better care for those caregivers translates to better outcomes for their care receivers,” Gibbons said. “Because of that compassion fatigue, the onslaught on top of your immune system is overwhelming. We can mitigate that. We can really help with that. And we’re really proud that we are allowed to do it at Providence.”
St. Joe’s staff members are especially susceptible to caregiving burnout in the current pandemic climate, wherein anxiety levels are heightened and their services are more critical than ever for patients.
“They’re the ones who are on the front lines, who are experiencing all that compassion fatigue,” Gibbons said. “Our first obligation…right now is, ‘Let’s care for those caregivers.’ So everything else is virtual, but that opportunity is very much hands on with the teams that are showing up every day.”
In addition, virtual activities have kept the organization just as busy as months prior to the pandemic.
“We are holding support groups that happen every day, wellness activities, and educational webinars. Everything’s remote” said Allison Korrey, Managing Director of Leeza’s Care Connection Burbank. “People are really liking the flexibility of virtual. So I imagine when we do open again, we’ll offer some sort of hybrid of both because some people miss the one-on-one.”
The organization also includes a collaborative program called HUGS, standing for Helping U Grow Stronger. The HUGS system consists of experienced family caregivers undergoing a six-week training program before providing mentorship to new caregivers who are seeking support and may be feeling overwhelmed by this new role. Thus far Leeza’s Care Connection has had five graduating classes of HUGS mentors and more are now being trained via virtual participation. Once training is completed, ambassadors are purposefully partnered with caregivers based on compatibility to cultivate an enduring and fulfilling mentorship.
“We can set up masses of people that will be good together,” Korrey said. “So when they connect, it’s a true connection that lasts a long time. Some people won’t go to a support group because they don’t want to air their grievances in a room full of people… but HUGS is a way to work one-on-one with a mentor and really get that kind attention that you desperately, desperately need when you feel like you’re doing it all in your own.”
Many mentors in the program have lost loved ones who they’ve spent years devoting their lives to caring for. HUGS utilizes their acquisition of caregiving knowledge in a substantial way that both gives to others and creates a sense of purpose in their lives.
“That’s the real crown and the jewel that we’re harnessing with HUGS is taking [experienced caregivers] and saying, ‘This is unbelievably valuable, what you now know,’” Gibbons said. “[HUGS is] designed to create this national web of awareness of people who have the same experience. So we want to use HUGS and it is working to elevate the experience of caregiving and give those individuals the due credit.”
While currently helping create a comprehensive approach to health at Providence St. Joseph Medical Center, Leeza’s Care Connection is also in talks with the Burbank Nonprofit Coalition for future plans to expand as one of the staple nonprofit organizations in Burbank. For Gibbons, the valuable impact the foundation continuously provides is a meaningful outcome that honors her mothers’ vision for sharing their journey.
“It’s nothing short of thrilling, a serious dream come true,” Gibbons said of the foundation. “My goal was to do what Mom said, which was to tell the story and connect and tell my story with others who had a similar experience. We realized that we are more powerful when we can figuratively walk hand in hand through this experience. So I get energized from it, [and] I see our caregivers get energized.”
Although there have been hardships stemming from COVID-19, the resiliency of the community whom Leeza’s Care Connection serves has been infectious and points to even more forward progression to come.
“Our philosophy is, “Let’s focus on what’s left and not what’s lost,’” Gibbons said. “So while that’s certainly important to grieve what’s lost, we grieve. [But] we focus on what’s left, which is virtual gatherings and new ways to connect and bring new people into our groups. And that’s been incredibly positive.”
To learn more about Leeza’s Care Connection, visit their site here: