July 10, 2021
With the passing yesterday of Delores Barbeau, MD, Springfield Medical Care Systems lost an amazing woman who made a deep and lasting impact on our community and on countless lives near and far. She has left us all with an example of how to take life by the horns and live it to the fullest and with kindness. She lived with passion and compassion. She fought for what she thought was right but actively listened to everyone. She amplified the voices of those whose voices have been lost, suppressed or ignored. She reminded us all of our responsibility to each other.
Her stories were incredible: delivering babies in rural communities with no medical supplies; dancing with delivering mothers in the hospital; carrying a preemie baby, destined to die, in her white coat pocket as she rounded in the hospital, feeding him with a dropper for days until he was strong enough to be returned to his mother and 9 siblings and enduring the heartbreaks and terrors of living in a war-torn country. Where there was a need she found a way to meet it. With Gloria Dawson she founded Neighborhood Connections to fill service gaps for the South-Central Vermonters, including health and wellness classes, health screenings, arranging rides, fuel or firewood assistance, signing up for COVID vaccinations and much more, they connect individuals and families with the resources they need.
In her practice of medicine Delores was a natural teacher. If you never heard her safe sex talk you’ve missed out! She cared about quality and was an advocate for the annual review and a true physical exam (done properly). Most importantly she cared about her patients, their loved ones, her colleagues and all those with whom she worked or consulted. She welcomed all patients. She challenged and inspired them but most of all she listened to their stories, their needs and goals and she met them where they were at, gave them a safe space to return to and supported them as best she could. Despite working long hours at multiple jobs Delores also found time for fun both at work and outside of work. She made time for spiritual reflection and nurturing relationships and even for playing a game or two on the computer. She embodied the mission of a community health center and through her work at Mountain Valley and Springfield Health Center she gave us all a great example of how to be better healthcare professionals and better human beings.
As she inspired us in how she lived she can also inspire us in how she died. Despite her pain and stage four cancer she found ways to continue to do the things most important to her and outlived all predictions. This week she realized it was her time to go. She accepted it, welcomed people to come say good-bye and celebrated her life and her relationships. Surrounded by her loved ones in the place where she had cared for so many, she died yesterday afternoon. A big thank you to her Springfield Health Center, Family Medicine and Mountain Valley Health Center families and the staff of Springfield Hospital who cared for and supported her though this journey.
There will be many celebrations of Delores’ life. As part of the implementation of HRSA funding to increase access to care, SMCS is establishing a mobile medical unit. Having such a service has been a dream Delores, famous for her “parking-lot consults” and home visits, talked about for 20 years. When we launch the service later in 2022 (the unit takes months to assemble) it will be dedicated to Delores. Although we are sad she will not be driving it (which she would have loved to do), we are grateful that we were able to share with her that it will be named in her honor. She was thrilled!
For many in our organization and the greater community this is a great personal loss of a dear friend. May we all be able to give each other the compassion, grace and support that Delores modeled for us all.