40 years

History of Hospice of Warren County

Photo submitted to Times Observer Elsa Redding, Hospice of Warren County Director, 1985-2013.

Over the next five Saturdays, the Times Observer is presenting Hospice of Warren County from its perspective in honor of its 40th anniversary, starting today with its history, and in the following weeks, Hospice, Palliative Care, the John, and Orpha Blair Hospice Residence, and the Schorman Center.

The year 2019 marks the 40th anniversary of the founding of Hospice of Warren County.

Indeed, it is a time for celebration and also a reflection of the development and expansion of our community-based program that provides state of the art end of life care to Warren County families dealing with life-limiting illnesses.

To review, it was Dame Cicely Saunders, a nurse, social worker, and physician who founded the modern hospice movement in 1967 in London, England. Committed to the ideal that individuals dealing with terminal illnesses should have comfort, dignity, respect, and love at the end of their lives, she promised, “You matter because you are you. You matter to the last moment of your life and we will do all we can not only to help you die peacefully but also to live until you die.”

Dame Cicely provided this care to all who came to her St. Christopher’s Hospice. Additional hospices opened throughout England and the hospice concept spread across the ocean where the first American hospice was established in New Haven, Connecticut in 1974.

It is agreed that in our Warren County community all aspects of quality of life are valued. It follows that excellence in end of life care – i.e. hospice – should be an option for our residents. In 1979, just five years after the New Haven Hospice was founded, Hospice of Warren County was established.

This was the result of the vision, hard work, commitment, and support of Roger Mesmer, MD, Joseph DeFrees, and additional outstanding community leaders. It exemplified Margaret Mead’s words: “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Our program started as a coalition model, utilizing existing community agencies, Warren General Hospital, highly trained hospice volunteers, volunteer interdisciplinary team members, a committed Board of Directors, and a part-time agency coordinator. Judy Cerra, RN, masterfully led us through those first five years of program development and the provision of care. The United Fund of Warren County was a source of support and continues to provide steadfast financial backing.

Support and care were and continue to be provided to patients referred by their physicians. Because the patient and the family are seen as the unit of care, it follows that after the death of the patient bereavement care continues for the family. We developed an extensive and excellent bereavement program. Started by Mary Schorman, it has continued to expand, offering grief support to all in our community dealing with the death of a loved one.

Our coalition volunteer intensive program worked well through our first decade of operations. Our strategic-minded board, staff, and volunteers saw the benefit of expanding our services to become a Medicare-certified hospice program, a fully comprehensive program. A Task Force, led by David Martin, studied the methods and means to meet the Conditions of Participation in a financially sound manner. After restructuring, hiring the requisite additional staff, developing required contracts, and policies and procedures, we reached our goal of achieving Medicare Certification in January 1991.

From the founding of our program, education and training have been standard. Staff, volunteers, and Board Members have availed themselves of ongoing opportunities including on-line learning and attendance at local programs, and at regional, state, national conferences. In addition, our directors have been highly involved in the Pennsylvania Hospice and Palliative Care Network.

A highlight in this area was the 1999 State Annual Meeting and Conference in Erie where the keynote speaker was Dame Cicely Saunders.

She inspired and enthralled the record-breaking number of attendees from our Commonwealth and neighboring states.

We have continued to strive to meet the needs of Warren County residents and to enhance the quality of our services and programs. To list some projects accomplished: (1) establishment of our Ethics Committee, Policies and Procedures led by Dr. James Drane, world-renowned biomedical ethicist, (2) completion of our successful Hospice Forever Endowment Campaign, led by Robert Crowley, (3) establishment of both a Palliative Care Service and a Pediatric Hospice and Palliative Care Service, led by Lisa To and Keith Price, MD, (4) establishment of our Hospice Residence, (5) establishment of a program to honor Veterans led by staff social workers and volunteer Richard Gruber, (6) establishment of the Mary Mangus Hospitality House, (7) purchase and renovations of our 1 Main Street Office, and (8) ongoing vital strategic planning led by Robert Klebacha and Robert Crowley.

In all that we have done and continue to do it has been an honor and privilege to be welcomed into our patients’ homes and lives; to provide care and comfort for them and their loved ones.

Being a community-based non-profit hospice means that in a way we are owned by the public — by the community. Our mission is derived from the needs of those who live here.

Our staff, our volunteers, our board members are all members of the Warren County area we serve.

It seems a beautiful cycle of reinvesting the revenue that comes from our community donors and Warren County corporations and sponsors right back in to care for our Warren County families.

Our goal continues to be to promise excellence and deliver more.

During each week of September, we would like to share with you more details about each of the programs Hospice of Warren County offers Hospice, Palliative Care, the John, and Orpha Blair Hospice Residence, and the Schorman Center — a Place for Healing Grief and Loss.