When Dame Cicely Saunders, mother of the modern day hospice movement, began her work to construct the first modern hospice in England during the 1960s, it was truly an extension of her calling that began decades earlier when she met a patient who changed her life forever. She had been working as a medical social worker in a hospital in the 1940s when she met a patient who was dying of an inoperable cancer. They quickly became friends for the remainder of their time together, and both agreed there must be a better place to complete important life’s work than a busy hospital ward where the focus of patient care was on curative treatment rather than care of the dying. After the gentleman died, he bequeathed Saunders money, telling her, “I will be a window in your home.” Decades later, after becoming a physician with the sole intent to impact end of life care, Saunders opened the doors of the first modern hospice of England, St. Christopher’s, and thus began the grassroots hospice movement, a movement firmly planted on Christian principles. It was Saunders who brought awareness to the needs of the terminally ill, and it was she who brought to light a topic that many still find uncomfortable and fearful today.
I have been working in hospice for close to twenty years, striving to educate the greater public and raise awareness of the needs and rights of the terminally ill. When I first began my career as a registered nurse in oncology care more than twenty years ago, I was profoundly impacted by the terminally ill patients under my care, and I knew then that hospice would become my life’s work. What I didn’t fully understand was just how far society would stray from Dame Saunders’ founding beliefs regarding end of life care – rooted in Christian tradition – and for those called to serve in hospice, to act in accordance with those traditions.
Over the course of my career, I have witnessed many changes in the delivery of end-of-life care. Many of these changes have proven to be harmful toward patients experiencing life-limiting illness. For example, following the advent of the Medicare Hospice Benefit, the growth of the national for-profit hospice industry has forever challenged the exchange of intimate, quality, hands-on bedside care for profit to shareholders, patient “quotas,” aggressive marketing tactics and productivity ratios. These are words and ideas that Dame Saunders never envisioned when she passionately began her work with the dying. Words and ideas that make a mockery of the human suffering many patients experience when told their condition is terminal. Additionally, recent research has concluded that nonprofit hospices provide more extensive services than for-profit programs, indicating that the commercialization of hospice is a detriment to patient care.
This voiceless and vulnerable population has become my own personal passion over the years, as I have worked to create a collective voice through patient focused care, a return to founding hospice philosophy, and ongoing patient advocacy. These patients and their loved ones have inspired me to expand my education and complete my doctorate degree – with a focus on palliative and hospice medicine. Each time I meet a new patient and family, I am profoundly touched by their lives and how they impact my own, understanding more deeply that their lives matter, every day they are here on this earth. And I am honored that they and their families have chosen Catholic Hospice & Palliative Services to care for them during – what we at Catholic Hospice & Palliative Services believe to be – the most sacred time of life.
The character of Catholic Hospice & Palliative Services is determined not by its name or who owns it, but rather by how it is operated. Catholic Hospice & Palliative Services is a pro-life hospice organization As an independent, non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization, Catholic Hospice & Palliative Services believes that we have a responsibility to preserve life.
Catholic Hospice & Palliative Services holds true to the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
Caring for people of all faiths, Catholic Hospice & Palliative Services believes in the dignity and sanctity of human life and, based on those beliefs, it is our mission to provide education and the utmost standard of comprehensive, holistic, end of life care. We believe hospice is a ministry – not big business – and it is our highest calling to provide exceptional end of life care to each patient and family we are called to serve. Much like the first modern hospice of all those years ago, we at Catholic Hospice & Palliative Services wish to be a “window in the homes” of those who come to us during this most sacred journey.
Cristen Krebs, DNP-ANP