For Elsa Redding, it's been about making life better.
Redding has dedicated most of the last three decades to that goal while serving at the helm of Hospice of Warren County, and now she is preparing to pass the torch.
"Elsa Redding has been the face and inspiration of Hospice of Warren County for 28 years," Bob Crowley, who has served on the organization's advisory board since 2001, said. "I have the deepest admiration for her leadership and compassion in dealing with patients and families with life-limiting illnesses."
For Redding, the mission has been one of enriching the broader community.
"It's the whole idea of quality of life in Warren County and being members of this community," Redding said. "Whether it's early or in the middle of life and even when they reach the end of life, they can have the opportunities for quality of life.
"Our Bereavement Services have always been a strong part of our program. Since we see the patient and the family as the unit of care, it follows that once the patient dies, the care does not stop for the family."
Mary Schorman, with the bereavement program, has seen the impact of this larger "unit of care" philosophy.
"In the 28 years that Elsa has served, I have seen the bereavement program grow," Schorman said. "This is in a large part due to Elsa. She has always seen each part of Hospice as of equal importance. Because of the wonderful outlook she has had, she has supported any suggestions to enlarge and improve the bereavement services we can offer to families. Our Hospice of Warren County has been extremely fortunate to have her as our executive director."
After 28 years, it's difficult to separate Redding's journey from the growth of the organization she led.
According to Redding, she first became involved after hearing Judy Cerra, the program's first coordinator, speak about the organization at a PTA meeting. When Cerra left to take another position, Redding said she applied for the opening. She began her tenure on March 1, 1985.
"Judy was my mentor and friend and the Hospice office was in an upstairs bedroom of a hospital-owned house located at 108 Cayuga Street," Redding recalled. "Judy had served for five years as the first Hospice coordinator, beautifully carrying out the program created and developed by founders Roger Mesmer and Joseph DeFrees and an incredible board of directors."
Since then, Hospice of Warren County has grown.
"We expanded our volunteer intensive coalition-based program to become a comprehensive Medicare certified program... established a Transition Program (the DeFrees Support Program) in 2001, a Palliative Care Service in 2006, the John and Orpha Blair Hospice Residence in 2010," according to Redding. "The Mangus family, in 2012, graciously offered a lovely home for visiting out-of-town family members, similar to Ronald McDonald homes in bigger communities.
"We are very fortunate to be affiliated with Warren General (Hospital)."
Redding said the John and Orpha Blair Hospice Residence is one of only four such facilities in the state.
"We are fortunate to offer so many services to our patients in addition to all of the care provided by our 150-plus highly trained and incredibly committed staff members and volunteers," Redding said. "They are the heart of Hospice of Warren County."
Meanwhile, Redding has grown along with the organization.
"Education and training have always been priority requirements, and I had the privilege of attending both state conferences presented by our Pennsylvania Hospice Network (PHN) and national conferences put on by the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization," Redding recalled. "I also had the privilege of serving on the PHN Board of Directors including serving as board president for two terms. It was an honor to receive the PHN Nancy Bohnet Award for Excellence, a Lifetime Achievement Award, in 2006."
The real rewards, according to Redding, have been less tangible.
"It is the work we have done together right here in warren County that has been the most fulfilling and rewarding," she said. "Our committed staff, volunteers and board members have made it possible to expand and enhance and carry out our mission statement, 'Compassionate end-of-life care assuring dignity for body, mind and spirit'."
She said what's most important has been, "To have the care of professionals and volunteers who can provide the very best quality of life... and to really be able to have state of the art care here."
Perhaps the most sure sign of the impact Redding's time with Hospice of Warren County has had is in the opinions of those who work with her.
"Elsa has a permanent smile on her face in a business that can be very sobering at times," Crowley said. "The sterling reputation of Hospice of Warren County is a testament to Elsa's sincerity and trustworthiness that she exudes with each and every person with whom she relates."
Connie Lucia, DeFrees Support Program director, said Redding has been willing to go above and beyond in service to her mission.
"I have worked for Elsa for 23 years and have great admiration for her," Lucia said. "She is a most caring, compassionate person who manifests those traits with actions and not just words. I can recall her preparing meals for families, taking much time to make many personal visits to families needing support, making endless funeral home visits and phone calls to grieving families. All on her own time."
While her time with Hospice of Warren County is coming to a close, Redding expressed thanks for her time with the organization and hope for its future.
"Quality of life is something that we strive for in all stages of our lives. It is especially important to assure that the final stage of living is filled with dignity, respect, caring, and love," Redding said. "Now, as I reach this retirement time, it is with gratitude for the opportunity to have been a part of this wonderful organization. And it is with complete confidence and peace of mind knowing that Hospice of Warren County, under the outstanding leadership of new Executive Directive Lisa To, will grow to new heights and provide even higher quality of Hospice and Palliative Care to Warren County patients and families."