Bassett Healthcare Network has announced the 2021 recipients of its Walter A. Franck Physician Excellence Award and the Advanced Practice Clinical Award of Excellence. The awards are among the network’s highest honors, according to a media release.

Dr. Erik Riesenfeld, medical director of respiratory therapy at Bassett Medical Center, was given the Franck award. Physicians are nominated for the recognition for “demonstrating extraordinary service to patients, students, colleagues, and the community — traits that emulate the career of retired Bassett rheumatologist Walter A Franck,” the release said. Network physicians vote to choose the recipient.

The Franck award is a recognition of Riesenfeld’s “extraordinary leadership during the COVID-19 crisis,” the release said.

“On behalf of the entire BMC critical care team, Dr. Riesenfeld deserves the Walter A. Franck Award for his unwavering commitment to outstanding patient care,” colleagues said in their written nomination. “He and his critical care colleagues performed in a heroic manner by putting their own lives at risk to save their patients. He is an excellent communicator, team player, educator, and role model to residents and colleagues.”

“This recognition is very humbling,” Riesenfeld said. “I feel like I am receiving it on behalf of others — leaders who rebuilt the hospital to accommodate as many patients as possible, nurses who risked their lives to stay at their patients’ bedsides, respiratory therapists who made rounds day and night to save lives, and the environmental services staff who cleaned and sterilized. Everybody made a remarkable effort for our patients.”

In addition to working with respiratory therapists in critical care, Riesenfeld was a co-investigator in Bassett’s clinical trials of various possible COVID-19 therapies, the release said.

“The pandemic suddenly accelerated the pace of the medical field,” Riesenfeld said. “We have to quickly adapt to follow the scientific evidence. Our understanding and our strategies evolved week-to-week. That was exciting.”

Riesenfeld said he can’t help but acknowledge a complex mix of emotions about his pandemic work. “This has been a hard time — you can’t come out of it feeling great,” he said. “A lot of people have suffered and died. It was truly horrible. But on the other hand, I’m very proud of what we did. We rose to the occasion and served our community.”

Maureen Kuhn, a nurse practitioner and medical director of Cherry Valley Health Center, was awarded the Advanced Practice Clinical Award of Excellence. Kuhn’s nomination “lauds her as an exceptional caregiver who uses all resources at her disposal to meet patient needs, as a gifted leader and a trusted guide for other leaders, and as an inspiring teacher raising up tomorrow’s caregivers,” the releases said.

“To get this award from peers I’ve worked with is a great honor,” Kuhn said. “I have particularly enjoyed teaching nurse practitioner students for more than 35 years. I came here as a precept student working with Dr. Pollack, Debbie Dickenson and George Case. When I returned later to work full-time, I committed myself to giving back. I’ve always had a nurse practitioner student since.”

“She has established a deep, abiding connection with the Cherry Valley community,” Kuhn’s nominators said in their recommendation that she receive the award. “She is their provider, their friend, their counselor. She is a part of the community in a way that few practitioners can begin to emulate.”

“You get what you give,” Kuhn said. “Anytime you make an investment in an organization, you get something back. Committing yourself to a community enhances your practice. It’s a blessing taking care of three, four or five generations of a family and knowing that history. I’ve attended my patients’ weddings, funerals, graduation parties and those sorts of things.”

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