Four members of the health care community were celebrated at the 12th annual Salute to Healthcare on Thursday night.

Dr. Charles Kent, DDS, an orthodontist in town, was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award after running his practice in Lufkin for decades and for his contributions to the community.

“This award is to be given to someone who has had an extraordinary impact in the Lufkin/Angelina County health care community over a lifetime, and I am sure you will all agree our recipient fits the bill,” Dr. Sid Roberts, the director of the Temple Cancer Center, said.

“We talk about other awardees being caring, compassionate and able to make you smile. But our Lifetime Achievement Award recipient really could make you smile.”

Kent graduated from Lufkin High School and returned to Lufkin 50 years ago after spending time getting his education in Houston and serving time in the U.S. Army. Since moving back, he’s served on boards across town including the Lufkin ISD board and PineCrest Retirement Community’s.

“I’m very humbled by this,” Kent said. “I would never have dreamed it. Thank you, those that chose me. But I have to tell you, this honor belongs to a really big team.”

He then went on to name his parents, his wife Beverly, his children, and the staff and customers who have helped him throughout the years.

Ashley Berry, founder of the East Texas Cancer Alliance of Hope, was awarded as the Individual of Merit. Berry is a breast cancer survivor and, recognizing a need in the region for an assistance program that will cover bills and basic cost of living needs for people undergoing treatment, created her nonprofit.

“Even in the depths of her treatment, she was always thinking beyond herself,” Roberts said. “What she has accomplished this last year will be a lasting and ongoing benefit to our community.”

Berry was surprised by her family’s interest in attending the reception; she thought they were there to pick up an insurance check, she said.

Her nonprofit provides funding for individuals and families with members undergoing cancer treatments of any kind. In her battle, she was lucky to have found a benefactor and wanted to continue that good work, she has said in previous interviews.

“Thank you,” she said. “After today, when I have a client call to say she’s facing eviction, another to say that they feel like they’re about to lose the land their trailer sits on currently, another who is caring for her husband with cancer and they depleted all of their savings and they just need their light bill paid, I’ll continue this work. Until I can’t work anymore. With the little that I have, and this great community. I’m confident in the fact that we will pay light bills, we will pay rent, we will pay every utility, kids will have exactly what they need. I promise you that.”

They named Dr. Linda Chase, MD, as the Healthcare Professional of the Year. While she was born in Texas, she received her training in Indiana, Illinois and Michigan. She worked in Florida and North Dakota before finally moving back to Texas, Roberts said.

“Though Texas-born, this physician is fairly new to Lufkin, having moved here in 2014 to start a brand new program caring for some of our most vulnerable — dare I say it, tiniest — patients,” Roberts said.

As Lufkin’s first and only full-time neonatologist, Chase is constantly on call, Roberts said.

“Thank you so much,” Chase said through tears. “Henry had no idea what he was in for. He and I got married a couple weeks before we moved down here, and he wakes up in the morning to an empty house and I’m running down the hallway screaming about quadruplets. I would not be able to do what I do without his support.

“I just love the vision that Woodland Heights had. It just broke my heart that all the babies in this area were being sent so far away.”

The event named Janie Lee, RN, as Nurse of the Year. Lee has worked for more than 30 years in many different areas, Roberts said.

“Our Nurse of the Year has been described as passionate, confident, empathetic, dedicated, people-oriented and a great friend, mother, grandmother and church member,” Roberts said.

She is now a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner with the SANE program in Lufkin and is also a house supervisor where she works.

“Oh, my gosh, thank you so much. This is beautiful. I love this,” she said. “I love nursing and I love people. Thank you again.”

Dr. Robert Morrow, who serves as the market president of Houston and Southeast Texas at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas, presided as the keynote speaker for Thursday night’s events. He spoke on the hardships rural communities like Lufkin and Angelina County face when it comes to dealing with health care.

“It’s become that your zip code matters more for your health than your genetic code,” he said.

While Texas continually ranks low for health outcomes, that is led by the shape of the rural counties, he said. And many of them face the issues they do because of a lack of access to health care that could prevent chronic illness or many sudden emergencies, he said.

“The most clinically and financially effective way to manage a chronic illness is in fact, not to get one,” he said. “Or, if you have one, to identify it early and treat it effectively so you don’t need to go to a hospital.”

Jess Huff’s email address is jess.huff@lufkindailynews.com.