And the 2020 “Big Heart Award” winner in Fort Atkinson is …

Turns out, two recipients were chosen for the 2020 Heart of the City’s “Big Heart Award”: Fort HealthCare and Michael Clish, formerly of WFAW radio.

The annual award was presented to the two recipients Friday afternoon in the Fort Memorial Hospital mezzanine lobby. This was the first time in the 14 years of Heart of the City honoring community members that two honorees received the award.

The “Lue Ehinger Big Heart Award” is presented in February, close to or on Valentine’s Day, to acknowledge contributions made to the Fort Atkinson community relating to the mission of Heart of the City. Heart of the City is composed of citizens interested in maintaining the small-town character and quality of life found in the community.

Heart of the City members reflected that fellow member Lue Ehinger had “one of the biggest hearts of all,” and the group wishes that she be memorialized as others carry on in her tradition.

Approximately two dozen hospital employees, Heart of the City members and others turned out for Friday’s celebration and awards presentation.

The two recipients of the 2020 Big Heart Award are as follows:

Fort HealthCareFort HealthCare (Fort Memorial Hospital) has provided care to the greater Fort Atkinson community since 1942.

“In the past two decades, Fort HealthCare’s commitment to improving the health and wellness of the community — while providing opportunities and information for people to play an active role in their own wellness — has played a crucial role in connecting people to health care resources and services throughout Jefferson County,” Heart of the City members acknowledged. “The hospital’s commitment, presence and participation have been a reassurance to the community and have been vitally important during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In bestowing the award, Heart of the City Board member Jean Brooks, a retired registered nurse whose daughter is employed at Fort HealthCare, said the healthcare provider was being presented with the Lue Ehinger Big Heart Award for its outstanding care and service during the COVID pandemic as well as for being in the community for the last 20 years.

“2020 was the year of the healthcare worker,” Brooks remarked. ““We all faced a threat that we knew so little about, but the healthcare workers were on the front line to get us safely through it. If there ever was any question about their importance, I believe it is obvious now just how important nursing and all hospital work is.”

The physicians and nurses, she said, are fighting an unprecedented health crisis and saving lives in the process.

“The administrative staff of our hospital spend countless hours addressing the safest way to manage the pandemic, and how best to minimize the risk to staff and patients,” Brooks said. “It took a lot of planning and organization as the administration made preparations in order to smoothly care for a calamity the likes of which had not been seen by anyone living today, and of which there is still so much for all of us to learn.”

She then put more of a human face on the pandemic’s toll.

“For the unfortunate patients and families who were directly infected by COVID-19 and who required hospital admission, the strain and anxiety was immense,” Brooks said. “So, to have a nearby hospital staffed by our local people is a wonderful comfort measure.”

While many businesses are struggling these days, she said, a hospital is the only business that constantly invites in pandemic victims.

“The direct patient care workers were faced daily with the unknowns, the conflicting information at times, and the level of death not before seen by many staff members, all while they cared for and comforted those in need,” Brooks stated. “The staff are facing this virulent disease daily, but few workers have gotten sick—thankfully, none seriously. I attribute this to good (protective) equipment and diligent safety precautions.”

In November, there were a lot of local COVID-related deaths, she said, with some days seeing two or three patients passing.

“And this is especially tough for a staff that is not accustomed to dealing much with death,” Brooks said. “Caring for very ill patients who don’t have a family member by their side is tough on all concerned.

“Sometimes the situation is worsened when the patient and/or the family denies the disease even as the loved one lays dying,” she added. “Also, spending much of their day in PPE (personal protective equipment) is cumbersome and uncomfortably warm as well, and precludes simple touching and hugging patients.”

Occasionally, staff work with less than an ideal staffing ratio, Brooks indicated, noting, however, that usually someone pitches in and does the extra shift.

“Administration looks for more staff to hire, but they are scarce,” she said. “And yet, none of our nurses have left us. I am very grateful to them and to the hospital for creating an atmosphere that encourages a loyal staff.

“Heart of the City gives big thank you to our Fort HealthCare!”

Michael ClishMichael Clish, news reporter and on-air host, recently retired from WFAW, WSJY, WKCH after 25 years of providing broadcast coverage of nearly every aspect of the community.

In presenting him the Big Heart Award, Heart of the City members pointed out that Clish had been “steadfast in his commitment to providing coverage of important meetings in the community, promoting non-profit groups and covering programs that support the quality of life in Fort Atkinson.”

Karen Reinhardt, Heart of the City Board member, said “Michael has always cared about the integrity of journalism, and the role it plays to inform and engage our citizens.”

She cited just a few examples of his engagement.

“He has helped people tell their stories while connecting the past with the hopes of the future,” Reinhardt said. “He has created necessary links between citizens, the groups they worked with and the people they needed to reach.

“From moderating and setting the tone for political conversations, conducting countless interviews with area representatives regarding initiatives in surrounding communities, building momentum for city projects, promoting local festivals, and being a consistent presence at city council and school board meetings, Clish has been our anchor, earpiece and sounding board — not to mention, our good friend,” she concluded. “As Heart of the City member Ann Engelman so aptly put, ‘Michael embodies the spirit of this award.’”

As an aside, she said, she suspects Clish also must be aware of the fact that he entertained countless farmers and cows in many a barn as mornings dawned.

After receiving his Big Heart, the recipient took a moment to reflect on what the award means to him both personally and professionally.

“I feel great — it’s so wonderful to be recognized,” Clish told the Daily Union on Friday, alluding to all the people he had been talking with and had not seen in quite some time due to the pandemic. “I have lived here (in Fort Atkinson) longer than I’ve ever lived anywhere (including Boston and Minneapolis). Twenty-five years. It’s so nice to be appreciated.”

The longtime local radio personality declined to speculate about his future work prospects, saying instead: “Right now, I’m just sitting out the pandemic.”

“When it’s over, I think I might look for maybe some part-time work (at) some station that might need me,” he stated. “But this (award) meant a lot to me — it did.

“A lot of people have said to me, here this afternoon, ‘I miss listening to you in the morning,’” Clish concluded. “And my response is: So do I. Nobody misses it more than I do.”

To find more information on Heart of the City, visit http://heartofthecity.us and find the group on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Heart-of-the-City-325874885646/.

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