Community Partners Honored at Annual Breakfast

BRANFORD – The work Maureen Welch has done with hospice patients has changed her life.

“The relationships I’ve formed will stay with me forever,” Welch told the crowd of more than 130 people gathered at The Woodwinds in Branford Tuesday, May 1 for VNA Community Healthcare & Hospice’s annual Breakfast in Bloom fundraiser.
Guilford Savings Bank and Smith Brothers Financial were the platinum sponsors of the event.

Welch was one of three Community Partner Award recipients, along with Bernadette DiGiulian of the Shoreline Eldercare Alliance and Karen Ragonese of Towne Pharmacy.

Welch is an active hospice volunteer and supporter of VNA Community Healthcare & Hospice’s mission. A massage therapist at Now ‘N’ Then Therapeutic Massage in Branford, she not only serves as a massage therapy volunteer, but also donates her services as a raffle item at agency fundraisers.

“She’s just very, very gracious,” said Hospice volunteer coordinator Jo Ann Begley. “She’s very giving of her time. She believes in our agency and our cause and our mission and she will do absolutely anything she can to support it. All of our volunteers are valuable, but in addition to being a massage therapy volunteer, she has helped patients with meditation, reading to them. She’ll do anything. She’ll just be a quiet, gentle presence at the bedside. She’ll do whatever she needs to do.”

While Welch spoke of how she has been moved by her work with patients on their incomparable end of life journey, DiGiulian shared her perspective as a caregiver.

“It was a VNA nurse that helped make my mother’s last year of life one of dignity and respect, something I will always be grateful for,” she said.

DiGiulian is a the owner of Elder Caring LLC, which provides geriatric care management – a comprehensive approach to help older adults and their families by managing challenges such has chronic illness, dementia, physical disabilities and other life changes while helping to navigate the healthcare system. She is also a co-founder of Shoreline Eldercare Alliance, which seeks to raise awareness about issues and services important to older adults.

She is an active participant in the VNA Community Healthcare & Hospice Health Neighborhood group, which is comprised of health and eldercare professionals who seek to help local residents stay healthy and out of the hospital through community health literacy education.

“When you have Bernadette DiGiulian in your corner, you have nothing to worry about,” said Barbara Katz, Vice President of Clinical Program Development at VNA Community Healthcare & Hospice. “She’s been such an advocate for seniors and caregivers.”

As a Branford resident for 40 years, DiGiulian is also active in the local community as a member of the Connecticut Geriatric Society, the Connecticut Coalition on Aging, the Connecticut Coalition for End of Life Care, the National Association of Chaplains and the Shoreline Arts Aliance.

Ragonese is also a Branford resident and active in the community, among other things as a member of the Branford Rotary Club, which she trumpeted at the breakfast where many Rotary Club supporters sat in attendance.

Ragonese is a second generation pharmacist and Chief Executive Officer of Towne Pharmacy on the Branford Green. Her father, William Ward, started the business in 1965 and Ragonese has spent much of her life devoted to the family operations and the community.

She has modified her business over the years to meet the demands of patients. As the senior citizen population grew along the shoreline, Ragonese introduced Durable Medical Equipment and became an advocate for medication adherence. She implemented the Parata Robot Packaging System in an effort to help seniors and their caregivers manage their medication accurately.

Ragonese is a longtime volunteer on the VNA Community Healthcare & Hospice Professional Advisory Committee and a supporter of its health promotional programs.

“It’s Karen’s personal touch that truly stands out in all she does,” VNA Community Healthcare & Hospice President and CEO Janine Fay said when presenting the award.

The breakfast included a cappella music from the group Encore of Daniel Hand High School in Madison.

All proceeds from the event will support the nonprofit visiting nurses agency’s vital services, including home healthcare, community wellness programs and its Family Caregiver Support Network.