Featuring: Denise Watson, Patient Care Technician, Doctor’s Community Medical Center (formerly Doctor’s Community Hospital)

“Immigrants. We get the job done.” – Miranda

This line from the record-breaking musical Hamilton, consistently gets tremendous applause during the show. Why? Because audiences know there are millions of people who make this country great, many of whom are immigrants — and all too often, they and their contributions go unrecognized.

Denise Watson is one of those immigrants. And ‘the job’ in her case, is caring for some of the millions of senior Americans who rely on health caregivers for help with the tasks of daily living, and clinical tasks, like taking blood pressure and leading physical therapy exercises. Immigrants make up nearly a third of direct-care workers and a disproportionate share of the hospital and health community caregiver workforce. Who are these caregivers, and how did they come to this profession?

Denise grew up as part of a large extended family in a small village in the Jamaican district of Rondel. She was only eight when her mother died, so she went to live with her grandmother. “I was raised by my grandmother and that’s where I got my passion for taking care of people,” began Denise. “When my grandmother got older, she couldn’t afford to take care of me, and I was sent to live with other relatives.” Those relatives were her half-siblings, who treated like an outsider. She was “doing everyone’s laundry and making everyone’s breakfast to earn her keep,” she recalled.

Denise did what she had to do. But her living situation was untenable, so she left her small village in Jamaica and headed to New York City, where she had a friend who was a nurse. She knew that caregivers were in high demand in America, so while the jobs were not well paid, it was easy to get started, provides mobility and for someone as caring as Denise, it could lead to a rewarding career in healthcare. Denise continued on to Maryland, where she completed the necessary coursework to become certified as a Patient Care Technician at Doctor’s Community Hospital.

Her first patient was “very challenging,” Denise recalled. “She was bi-polar – sometimes she loved me and other days she couldn’t stand me. She talked about suicide, threw knives and phones at me, and attempted to jump out her window twice under my watch. In situations like that, I had to be very calm, be very patient and cautious.” Denise was a beacon of stability for this patient, and their relationship was strong – so strong in fact that she was able to reinforce the bond between the patient and her daughter, who eventually gave her mom the attention she craved.

Bringing people closer together gives Denise’s life purpose. “’My husband asked me, ‘how can you have so much compassion and love when you weren’t raised with them.’ I replied, saying ‘I know what it’s like to be without love. I would never want anyone to experience the pain I went through as a kid. When I see someone in pain, I do whatever I can to make that person feel better.’”

One patient who touched Denise, began as one of her most difficult. His disposition made colleagues wary of having any interaction with him at all. “He was very aggressive, cursing and throwing stuff at you,” she recalled. “As I was taking his blood pressure, I calmed him down, and I noticed how dirty he was,” she explained. Denise bathed the man and cleaned his room. When he asked why she was so kind to him, she told him, “I just wanted to see you clean because you could be a family member to me.”

For Denise, her best experience is caring for patients like family and seeing them smile. “After I make my patient’s bed, I put a towel folded like a swan on the bed for them. When they see that, they know it’s my personal way of saying hello.” This gesture is far from a swan song for Denise Watson, who continues to show empathy and compassion and build hope for the patients of Doctors Community Hospital.

It was for these simple yet extraordinary acts of care that Ceca Foundation honored Denise Watson with its Ceca Award. By recognizing and rewarding the work of exceptional caregivers in health communities, Ceca is able to improve caregiver engagement, which leads to better quality of care for patients, residents, and families.

When presented with the Ceca Award, Denise talked about what the honor meant to her. “Ceca gives me the opportunity to be the best, high performance caregiver by recognizing me for the job I have done to improve patient safety and satisfaction, and comfort to their family and friends. Ceca has given caregivers a platform. It motivates us to want to do more, to be the best. It’s a fulfilling and rewarding feeling to be recognized, knowing that it is my passion to care for the sick and elderly.”

Denise Watson knows what it means to get the job done. And she does it with empathy, humor, integrity, professionalism, and teamwork.

To schedule an interview with one of our featured caregivers, contact us at prinquiries@cecafoundation.org.