If you are caring for someone suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, you may face difficult challenges as you try to provide care and understand the behavior changes of the person you are caring for. There are currently 18,000 South Dakotans 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s and 39,000 caregivers who support them. Over the past 15 years there has been one individual that many of these families have turned to for information and resources. Kathi Herreid, the State Program Director at the Alzheimer’s Association South Dakota is that person. That is why Kathi is this weeks SDAHO healthcare hero, a campaign designed to recognize and celebrate healthcare professionals across our state.
Kathi was nominated by her peers who say she exemplifies the compassionate mission of the Alzheimer’s Association. “She is a good listener, a hardworking partner, and a generous support system for those who look to us for guidance. Her deep knowledge of the complications and challenges of Alzheimer’s and dementia make her a sought-after resource in our state.” Joe Schartz, Dir. Of Public Policy at Alzheimer’s Association South Dakota, MPP
Kathi was born and raised in Aberdeen, South Dakota. After graduating from high school, Kathi worked in a long-term care facility as a nurse’s aide. Her time as a nurse’s aide is when Kathi realized she wanted to work with older adults, but that dream was put on hold. Newly married Kathi and her husband moved to Southern California, where she lived for 32 years. “I raised my daughters and when my youngest daughter was ready to graduate from high school, I went back to college and got my Bachelor’s degree in human development and my Master’s Degree in gerontology with an emphasis in Alzheimer’s and Dementia, so I have a late start in my career but I finally found what I waned to do when I grew up.” Kathi worked for the Orange County Alzheimer’s Association in California for a short time but in 2006 Kathi decided to move back home to South Dakota to be closer to her parents and siblings. A position came available at the Alzheimer’s Association South Dakota Chapter, which Kathi has been part of since 2015. “For me, being able to come back home and to find a position like this, is an honorable position. I feel fulfilled by what I do. My mom and grandma lived and died with Alzheimer’s disease. It seemed right to provide whatever care and support I could to other families who may be going through the same type of experience that I went through with my family.” When Kathi began her career with the Alzheimer’s Association South Dakota, it was a little-known entity. Kathi and their team of 4 have been able to forge a way into communities across South Dakota. “It was a challenge due to the broadness of our state and our immense rural population. It was difficult but a good challenge and we have been creative in how we do what we do.” The goal of the association is to improve the quality of care for those living with Alzheimer’s. “Kathi moves us closer to that goal through her actions in programs, policy, and education. She touches so many lives and until the day when Alzheimer’s has a cure, we need loving people like Kathi to walk with patients on their care journey.” Joe Schartz, Dir. Of Public Policy at Alzheimer’s Association South Dakota, MPP
When COVID-19 hit South Dakota, Kathi said it had a profound effect on those living with Alzheimer’s or dementia and their caregivers. Consistency and creating a continuous routine is important for anyone living with the disease, which was interrupted during the course of COVID-19. “They were put into a position that made it tough to face the challenges of the disease. We saw a lot of decline cognitively in many people living with the disease during the pandemic.” Her colleagues say Kathi seamlessly transitioned caregiver support programs to a virtual format and made sure families had the tools and equipment they needed to make that transition. “There was a new stress, a hopelessness in people’s voices and Kathi has been a source of hope for them. She also worked to educate healthcare providers on dementia care during the COVID-19 Era, thus contributing directly to improved quality of care for some of South Dakotas most vulnerable citizens.” Joe Schartz, Dir. Of Public Policy at Alzheimer’s Association South Dakota, MPP
The challenges were great for those struggling with the disease during the pandemic, but Kathi says there was also a silver lining. “We discovered that moving to a virtual world in terms of education programs really opened up our ability to touch more lives and reach those in rural populations. For those caregivers that would love to come to an education program or support group but could not leave the person they are caring for or they live an hour or more from the program site, they are now able to take part in those education programs virtually.” Kathi says prior to COVID-19 it never crossed her mind to use technology to teach people across the state. She has even utilized virtual resources from neighboring Alzheimer’s Associations to provide the help and support folks in South Dakota need. “I know for South Dakota, I am the go-to person for this. I have the opportunity on many levels to provide information about care, education, and support to people going through the caregiving experience. It’s rewarding because I lived it too.”
Kathi has touched many lives through her work with the Alzheimer’s’ Association South Dakota. “The partnerships that Kathi has provided, the expertise she offers our health care community and the direct help she has given persons living with the disease and caregivers, and she has been an inspiration to many in a time of great difficulty. She is a hero to her team and the many people she serves each day.” Joe Schartz, Dir. Of Public Policy at Alzheimer’s Association South Dakota, MPP
Kathi says she has mixed feelings about being called a healthcare hero, but when she heard the news, it was an emotional moment for her. “I never really thought of myself that way. It is a huge honor for me, and it really validates the work I have been doing, and I’m just doing what I love. This is hands down the most rewarding job of my career, so receiving an honor like this is a good feeling but I do not look at myself as being a hero, I look at myself as helping someone through a very challenging time in their life.”
Kathi Herreid, congratulations on being nominated and selected to be a SDAHO Healthcare Hero. Thank you for all you do!
If you would like to nominate someone to be highlighted as a healthcare hero, click here to fill out a nomination form.