Story by Ken Datsman (Brevard Business News)
Over the past two years, health–care workers’ day–to–day lives have been turned upside–down. They have faced unprecedented challenges providing care because of COVID–19, and in many instances risked their own lives to save the lives of others. Doctors, nurses, technicians, first responders, hospital support staff, law enforcement officers, and others have provided essential services during this time when the health and well–being of a community relied on their expertise.
Now, one local nonprofit organization has stepped up to shine the spotlight on and recognize the work of frontline health–care professionals, those who have gone “above and beyond the call of duty” to serve the community. Brevard Heart Foundation Inc., which is dedicated to improving and promoting quality care in the community through scholarships and initiatives, rolled out its “Heart of a Hero” campaign last year. They gathered nominations from the public sharing their stories of how a health–care worker has made a difference in their life or the life of a family member or friend.
“Once we launched the campaign for nominations, we started hearing about some amazing stories from people whose lives had been touched because of the dedicated work of a health–care professional,” said Diana Adams, executive director of the Brevard Heart Foundation. Today, many health–care workers feel overwhelmed, yet they continue to perform their duties. “Health–care workers have been under tremendous stress during the pandemic,” said businessman Travis Proctor, Brevard Heart Foundation’s board president. “These individuals are putting their health at risk to help others. They are working extra hours. We see them as ‘unsung heroes,’ if you will.”
Adapting to different workspaces and schedules, getting used to the new personal protective equipment, and facing uncertainly about the future are some of the factors contributing to work–related stress among health–care professionals. “As an organization, we started thinking about how we can elevate and bring forward the everyday stories that health–care professionals experience in order for the public to better understand the human–touch component of health care,” said Proctor, founder and CEO of Artemis/The IT Company in Melbourne and a longtime community volunteer.
Eventually, the Heart of a Hero campaign turned into the Heart of a Hero Awards Gala. The campaign “brought nominations from many people around the county,” said Adams. She said that roughly 20
awardees were selected from the nomination pool. A Brevard Heart Foundation committee reviewed and
selected the awardees. Adams said she communicated with each one, either by telephone or email. “It was interesting to hear from them. They were super–excited to learn that someone in the community had nominated them for this honor. They couldn’t believe it.” She added, “Multiple times the awardees told me that this recognition couldn’t have come at a better time for them. They mentioned coping with stress and with their emotions. These health–care professionals have some incredible stories to tell.”
The awardees are from the public sector and the private sector of the health–care industry. They work in different fields, roles, and settings, she said. Nationally, women account for three–quarters of full–time health–care workers, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
The awardees will be recognized at the Heart of a Hero Awards Gala from 6–9 pm. on Thursday, April 7, at the Hilton Melbourne. This is a black–tie optional event. Individual tickets are $75. They are sold at www.BrevardHeartFoundation.org.
Heart of a Hero is also seeking sponsors for the event. Businesses and individuals can become sponsors starting at $250. Sponsors will receive various benefits. To inquire more about sponsorship opportunities for Heart of a Hero, contact Adams at (321) 752–2742 or send an email to Diana@BrevardHeartFoundation.org. “We have received some nice community support for the Heart of a Hero Awards Gala,” said Proctor. “I think this is the type of event that businesses and individuals want to get behind.” The proceeds from the event will help fund health–care oriented scholarships for students.
Brevard Heart Foundation is marking its 65th year in 2022. It was founded in 1957 by Dr. Jack Bechtel, a physician. “Dr. Bechtel’s daughter (Bonnie Bechtel Jones) currently serves on our board as treasurer,” said Adams.“So, it’s nice to still have that family connection involved in
The late Dr. Bechtel earned his medical degree from Emory University and interned at Bethesda Naval
Hospital in Maryland. A U.S. Coast guard veteran who served as a pharmacist during World War II, Dr. Bechtel moved to Eau Gallie in 1952, taking over the practice of Dr. William J. Creel, who
had been a physician in the area since 1910, according to Dr. Bechtel’s obituary published in “Florida Today.” Dr. Bechtel was the “fourth doctor in active practice” at what was then Brevard Hospital on U.S. 1 in Melbourne. Each of the four physicians covered the emergency room for a week at a time. After two years, Dr. Bechtel accepted a two–year residency in cardiology and internal medicine at Duke University.
Brevard Heart Foundation was originally created to provide a “loan fund” for heart–surgery patients who could not afford the care. This was eight years before Medicare was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson. “Brevard Heart Foundation was originally formed to provide low–interest or no–interest loans and grants to patients who needed heart surgery in Brevard but didn’t have financial means to pay for it,” said Proctor, adding, “Brevard Heart Foundation sponsored and covered the cost
of the first pacemaker implant in the area. The implant was performed at Brevard Hospital in Melbourne,” now Health First Holmes Regional Medical Center. The date was Oct. 26, 1968. The organization’s financial support also included the training of physicians and nurses for the lifesaving pacemaker procedures. Educational seminars and clinics were started in 1965 so area nursing students could receive the training they needed.
Brevard Heart Foundation played a role in pioneering heart health in the region. Health insurance that covered “new” procedures such as pacemaker implants was not widely available to the public decades ago. Brevard Heart Foundation has since become a local leader in funding nursing and other health–care related scholarships, including those for medical students as well as for physician assistants. “As health insurance evolved and the rising cost of medical equipment outstripped our ability to underwrite and assist in that particular area, we turned to the funding of scholarships,” said Proctor. “We bring value to the community through our scholarships. We identify individuals to help further their education, which puts them on a path to their respective careers in health care.”
Through the years, Brevard Heart Foundation has provided more than $500,000 in scholarships to students on a merit basis. Each scholarship category is designed to meet a health– care need within the county. Recognizing the power of investing in local students who have a “heart” for serving others, the Brevard Heart Foundation awards scholarships in a wide range of categories, including Nursing Merit, Doctor of Osteopathy, Medical Doctor, Doctorate of Nursing Anesthesia Practice, Physician Assistant, and Nursing. The organization also offers two awards in honor of outstanding medical professionals who have served Brevard County for years with “compassion and resilience.” The awards are in the names of Dr. Jack T. Bechtel and of the Nancy Meisenheimer Nursing Scholarship.
Unlike many other scholarship programs, the Brevard Heart Foundation awards are given directly to the recipients rather than to their educational institution. By using this model, recipients have the flexibility to use their scholarship for a variety of costs that can become barriers to the completion of a degree or certificate, including tuition, books, medical equipment, and even child care, said Proctor. “One of the unique things about the Brevard Heart Foundation, is that we provide the scholarship money directly to the students. They can use it for anything that supports the pursuit of their education and their health– care career,” he said. Proctor added, “Sometimes the money is used to help with child care, with books, with uniforms, and with rent and utilities. They are earning degrees and certificates with the desire to serve our communities. We’re thrilled to be able to come alongside and offer support so those dreams become a reality. Now, more than ever, our society is realizing how vital it is to invest in the future of healthcare in our community.”
Brevard Heart Foundation’s annual scholarship cycle
will open in April, he said. “The Heart of a Hero Awards Gala will give the organization some additional visibility.” “The evening will be about celebrating the stories of the Heroes,” said Adams, who was named executive director of the Brevard Heart Foundation two years ago and is a
former educator. During her seven–year teaching career, Adams was awarded the prestigious title of “Dr. Theron Trimble Elementary Social Studies Teacher of the Year” for the state of Florida, as well as Elementary Social Studies Teacher of the Year for Brevard County. Adams earned her bachelor’s degree in elementary education from Pennsylvania State University and her master’s in educational leadership from the University of West Florida. She is currently pursuing her doctoral degree in public administration, with a focus on public–sector management, from Valdosta State University.
Adams has steered Brevard Heart Foundation through the pandemic. “Coming aboard a health–care focused
nonprofit during COVID was a unique experience and a very good experience. We have an important mission at Brevard Heart Foundation. And the pandemic has only increased the importance of strengthening the investment in frontline health–care professionals.”