Last month, I had the unique opportunity to attend both the Social Work Hospice and Palliative Care Network (SWHPN) and the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine’s (AAHPM) annual conferences in Scottsdale and Phoenix. It was a weeklong opportunity to meet and learn from the top leaders and educators in the field from across the country and around the world. I was also privileged to be a SWHPN conference presenter again this year.
The landscape of healthcare is changing across the country and hospice/palliative care is no exception. In fact, the services provided by hospice and palliative care providers are being recognized and valued now more than ever for a variety of reasons, including an aging population, increased visibility, as well as ongoing national health care system changes. Andrew MacPherson, health care lobbyist and end of life expert from Healthsperian, LLC in Washington DC, reported that despite ongoing political challenges in Washington, there is much opportunity ahead for hospice and palliative care service providers. The key to future success is innovative thinking and comprehensive community service provision. Dr. Diane Meier, Director at the Center to Advance Palliative Care and Professor of Palliative Medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital in NYC, discussed the emergent role of the palliative care team within the larger health care system. While hospice services are becoming better recognized in many settings, palliative care continues to be a health care service that is less familiar to the general public. However, tremendous growth is expected in the field of palliative medicine over the next several years as the population’s desire to remain at home grows and management of long term chronic illness expands. So the challenges ahead are community outreach and education, staff training and program development.
One thing that struck me about this year’s conference over those of the previous years was the sheer number of attendees. Both conferences had their largest attendee audiences ever, over 400 at SWHPN and close to 3500 at AAHPM. Yes, some of that could be attributed to this year’s location (Arizona in February…..yes, please!) but much more importantly than that, was the quality of the education provided, the excitement of the attendees, and the strong focus on future growth and restructure of our important yet sometimes overlooked and undervalued industry.
However, my biggest takeaway (by far) was how proud I am to be a part of the work that we do together at Transitions Hospice. At every turn throughout the week, I found myself enthusiastically sharing the work that we do and the philosophies that we share. At Transitions Hospice, we are present for over 90% of our patient deaths -sitting vigil, holding hands, singing, praying, laughing, crying, walking right alongside of our patients as they end one journey and begin another, comforting bereaved families and supporting our community partners. Our commitment to keeping people at home, sometimes in the most complex and complicated situations, is one of the things that set up apart. Our extended care team and our willingness and ability to care for people at the most inconvenient times is just a thought for many. To us, it’s what we do every single day.
Over the past 2 years, we’ve seen our palliative care program grow from just a fleeting idea to a fully operational team that is caring for well over 500 patients across Illinois and now into Indiana. Every day, our dedicated teams across 2 states carry out the mission and commandments of Transitions Hospice with heart, compassion and loyalty that is second to none. I am convinced now more than ever, that our staff and patient care standards are among the best in the nation, our innovative service model is far ahead of the curve and we are more than ready to take on any challenges that might lie ahead.
I have shared my journey to hospice with many of you before but I was reminded of it again this week. My friend who told me this: “You don’t choose hospice, hospice chooses you.” I truly believe that all of you are here because this where you are meant to be -at this time and in this place. Don’t ever take for granted the work that you do and the impact that you have on those whom you care for every day. It’s profoundly life changing, if you really think about it.
“At the end of life, what really matters is not what we bought but what we built, now what we got but what we shared, not our competence but our character and not our successes, but our significance. Live a life that matters. Live a life of love”
Written by Sara Dado, Executive Director