Vail Health presents Shaw Cancer Center’s Erin Perejda with inaugural Elevate Award
The new award program allows patients to nominate staff members for life-changing actions
Working in health care is often associated with long hours, stress, tough decisions and days, and often thankless tasks — especially in recent years. So, in order to give thanks and acknowledge the dedication of health care workers, Vail Health recently created the Elevate Award, which gives patients an opportunity to nominate and thank employees who have touched their lives in some way.
A number of Vail Health staff and community members gathered Monday at the Shaw Cancer Center in Edwards to honor the first recipient of the award — Erin Perejda, the supportive care services manager and licensed clinical social worker at the center.
“We all got into health care for a similar reason, and that’s to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives, and what a noble profession. … We don’t just treat that patient; we know their family, we know their history, we know their celebrations, we know their challenges and we adjust the way that we treat them based on their life,” said Michael Holton, Vail Health’s chief marketing and experience officer, at the award presentation.
“We created the Elevate Award, which is a brand new award for Vail Health, to recognize those employees that do go above and beyond, who invest their time and their heart — which is a scary thing to invest sometimes — into our patients; and it’s a beautiful, beautiful thing,” he added.
Vail Health opened up the nominations for the award earlier this spring and within four weeks, received over 50 nominations. However, Holton said that for the selection committee, Perejda stood out as the “clear winner.”
Support Local Journalism
Perejda was nominated by Lorenzo Martinez, the former Minturn Chief of Police, who began treatment at the Shaw Cancer Center after his diagnosis in 2018.
“My journey with cancer began with a diagnosis in 2018 and that journey, certainly to me, has been a lot about many blessings and guardian angels that have come into my life. And today I want to talk about and recognize one of those guardian angels for me,” Martinez said on Monday.
Martinez continued that his diagnosis made him both afraid and angry, prompting questions such as, “How could my family be taken care of? How could we pay the bills? How long did I have to live?” and “Why me?”
During the initial stages of his treatment, Martinez said his “will to survive was dwindled due to the intensity of treatment.”
“I felt abandoned by God and wanted to be left alone,” he said. “That is when one of my guardian angel steps in. Since day one, throughout treatment and now during follow up, Erin has been present in my life.”
Perejda, he said, was present not only with a smile on her face, but also with her advice, assistance, council and friendship.
“With help and guidance, I began embracing my journey while battling cancer. By embracing those daily blessings, my hope and will to survive grew. Dr. (Patricia) Hardenbergh (Shaw Cancer Center’s medical director) and her entire staff were crucial in saving my life,” Martinez said. “Erin played a vital role in not only helping me to survive, but growing to be a better person.”
The impact of Perejda and the staff at the Shaw Cancer Center went beyond Martinez’s survival, and actually inspired his daughter, Rose, to go into the medical profession. What she learned from the center’s staff, he said, she wants to use to help her own patients as she starts her career.
While Martinez went on to say that while many of the doctors, nurses and staff who helped him on his journey crossed his mind as potential nominees, Perejda “exemplifies the best of the best.”
For Perejda, who was surprised with the award during her shift on Monday, the award is recognition of the difference she and her team are able to make in their patients’ lives.
“I’m really touched. I know how much the work we do here means to the patients here, but to know how deeply they feel everything we do is a real honor, it’s just incredible,” Perejda said. “To know you’ve really made a difference to somebody and to be able to hear from them and hear how significant of a difference it is — it’s beyond even what I go home thinking I’m able to do.”
Getting this recognition, not only validates the work she does, but inspires her to continue it.
“It’s the reason I do what I do and think it fuels me to do more and more, better and better and to give what I can to make a difference,” she said.
Perejda joined the Shaw Cancer Center five years ago, and Martinez was one of her first patients, she said. During the award presentation, Perejda called Martinez a “ray of sunshine,” thanking him for letting the staff get to know him and his family.
“I remember how scary it was for them getting the diagnosis and everything they had coming up against them,” she said.
However, as his treatment progressed, Perejda recalled seeing him begin to fill with gratitude and pass along a smile, words of encouragement and even gifts to other patients — a sign of the true ripple effect that her care is able to have on patients.
Now, she added, “he’s always in here cheering other people up.”
The Elevate Award
Perejda and Martinez’s story is just the start of the Vail Health Elevate Award. The organization plans to award four employees each year.
Nominees can work for any area of the system, including Howard Head Sports Medicine, Shaw Cancer Center, Colorado Mountain Medical, Eagle Valley Behavioral Health and more. They can also be any type of employee from doctors and nurses to custodians, lab technicians and anyone in between.
A selection committee comprised of seven peers from across the organization and one community member — that also serves on its Patient-Family Advisory Council — will select the quarterly winner.
Community members can nominate employees both in person (with nomination forms available at all of the Vail Health facilities) or online at VailHealth.org.