Featured Corporator: Walter Birge
Walter Birge moved to Concord in 1980 to serve as headmaster of The Fenn School, an independent school for boys. Concord was a good fit for Mr. Birge, who had been a history teacher and headmaster at a school in New York.
He retired from Fenn after 13 years as headmaster. A year later, Mr. Birge was given the opportunity to teach English fulltime to ninth-grade students. After 11 years as a teacher at Fenn, he retired again.
It was time for Mr. Birge to ask the question “What am I going to do now?” He joined the town of Concord’s Finance Committee and served on the Board of Trustees of the Concord Public Library Corporation. He also decided to become involved with Emerson.
“As the headmaster at Fenn, I found myself in the Emerson Emergency Department [ED] more than once, accompanying boys who had either suffered sprains or banged themselves up,” he recalls. “I also brought my son in once when he had a terrible earache. We couldn’t have been treated better.”
Engaged, involved and giving back
Mr. Birge’s appreciation for Emerson has deepened since those days. He became a corporator in 1991 and now serves as co-chair of the hospital’s Patient-Family Advisory Council (PFAC), a group that includes hospital staff and area residents with an interest in Emerson.
“As community members, we see opportunities, ask questions and suggest ways to improve things,” he explains. “For example, I have an interest in finding ways to get the word out about the new MOLST form, which was designed to ensure that a person’s wishes about end-of-life choices are carried out.”
He cites Christine Combs, RN, MA, Emerson’s manager of patient safety who coordinates the PFAC, as playing an important role in the group’s acknowledged success. “Chris got us through those first meetings, and it became clear we could accomplish things together. We’ve evolved into a very effective working group.”
A PFAC pilot project led to the creation of a new position in the hospital’s ED. There are now three triage liaisons: individuals who are there to answer questions, check in with the physicians and offer assurance to patients and families in a sometimes hectic environment.
There is much more work to be accomplished. “We want to communicate more directly with the community about important health care issues on behalf of the hospital,” Mr. Birge notes. “We have been inspired by the work of other PFACs, and we are seeking ways to collaborate with them. And we are growing in size. We expect to add three or four new members. They are likely to be Emerson corporators.”
Mr. Birge also is a member of the Corporator Orientation Committee—a role he has played since the committee was formed in 2010. “This is a reflection of how being a corporator has changed since I first joined 23 years ago,” he says. “We’re much more active now. New corporators are supported by an orientation process that includes a tour and a briefing and a corporator handbook that we review and update regularly.”
He says that Emerson is a philanthropic priority for him and his wife, Susan. They have been Emerson donors since 1985. “We are grateful to Emerson for all the care our family has received at Emerson,” he says. That includes Mr. Birge’s nephrectomy—surgical removal of a kidney—not long ago.
“I couldn’t have been more relieved when I learned I could have the surgery at Emerson,” he says. “It went well. I can’t say enough about Dr. LaFontaine’s expertise and care.” Paul La Fontaine, MD, is a urologist on staff at Emerson.
“I often say to people ‘Why Boston?’ when they automatically head to town for health care,” Mr. Birge adds. “Emerson provides such high-quality care.”
Supporting Emerson, as a donor and as an active, engaged volunteer, comes naturally to Mr. Birge. “It’s not unlike my deep commitment to my church,” he says. “The Trinity Episcopal Church encourages us to love and care for those we don’t even know.
“The hospital has a similar philosophy. Emerson exists in order to care for others.”