Last week I was privileged to deliver the keynote address for the "Shine a Light on Hospice" fundraising event for the Mercy Medical Center Foundation in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
In preparing for that presentation, I learned even more about the history of hospice and its pioneering founder, Cicely Saunders. I've incorporated her story into my January release, 2015 Edition - The practical guide to Advance Directives. This book is an updated version of my 2006 Last things first, just in case . . . , but hospice will get its own chapter in this edition--and it's about time.
Born in 1918 London to a wealthy--but very chaotic and unhappy--family, Cicely Saunders became trained as a nurse, medical social worker and, finally, as a physician. Throughout her life's journey of turning obstacles into opportunities, her passion never wavered: to work with the dying and to advocate for their compassionate care. In 1967, she opened the first modern hospice, St. Christopher's in London. Florence Wald, the dean of the Yale School of Nursing, met Dr. Saunders during a series of lectures she delivered at Yale; Florence Wald paid it forward by opening the first American hospice in 1974. Ten years later there were 31 Medicare-certified hospices in the United States. Today there are more than 5,500. Almost one out of every two deaths in America now occurs in hospice care; there will be 1.5 million Americans in hospice care this year alone.
If you don't know much about hospice and palliative care and what it can mean for those in the final chapter of life--and their loved ones--I encourage you to visit the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (www.NHPCO.org) and then learn about your local resources. Hospice care can be provided in a person's home, the hospital, a nursing facility, assisted living or in an inpatient house like The Oldorf House of Mercy in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, if your community is very blessed.Hospice care is about respecting the patient's own definition of what it means to have one's best remaining days possible. National Hospice and Palliative Care Month is a great time to make a gift to a local hospice, perhaps in the name of someone you know who passed in their care. Just think about it. Then just do it.