The recent 50th anniversary of the founding of the modern hospice movement by Dame Cicely Saunders made me think about my own journey in hospice, and how it began.
Back in 1977 I attended a lecture by Dr Elizabeth Kubler Ross., who had come to Orlando to talk about her groundbreaking work. I was tremendously inspired by what I heard, and determined to become a part of the hospice movement. In 1983 I got my chance, becoming Executive Director of a tiny hospital-based hospice in Gainesville, Florida.
Our office was a remodeled elevator shaft, a windowless space with walls that were 2 feet thick. When I started, we had three staff members (two of whom were part time), fifteen volunteers, and five patients. We didn’t charge fees; it was a free service offered by our community hospital, Alachua General. It came about through a coalition of the communities, ministers, physicians, volunteers, hospital auxiliary ladies, and the CEO of the hospital who agreed to sponsor it. Our annual budget was $40,000. We created the rules as we went along.
We cared for people as if they were our family members. We were on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We stood with people who were dying and were their advocates. We trained physicians to be brave enough to order narcotics in large doses to manage people’s pain. We developed the state association, Florida Hospices, Inc., through which we all shared policies and procedures and frameworks of how to provide loving hospice care.
I was the executive director for almost 16 years. By the time I left, we were caring for 270 patients a day across 11 counties in north central Florida. We had approximately 190 employees and 450 volunteers, and we had built an 18-bed hospice care center.
When I left, 18 years ago this past June 1st, it was to start The Watershed Group, a consulting business with a mission; to help hospice organizations to stay vital in their marketplace by focusing on Mission, Purpose, Margin and Vision. I have worked with executives all across the country to improve their hospice programs and create a culture of caring. And I have assisted in recruiting hospice leaders to positions of CEO, COO, VP, and more. What an honor it has been to support these organizations and individuals as they do this sacred work, and to help grow this movement!
I never forget that, even though I may be more than five degrees of separation from the patients, they are still who I work for, ever striving to improve the quality of life for people at the end of theirs.
The Hospice of North Central Florida team in the late 1980’s!