November is National Hospice and Palliative Care Month, when hospice organizations worldwide raise awareness about caring for those dealing with serious and life-limiting illnesses. At Sunset Communities, we find it an excellent time to reflect on modern-hospice history and one of its pioneers.
While hospice care dates back to medieval times, there were few hospice facilities before the mid-1900s. Scattered mainly in hospital wards or their homes, terminally ill patients generally received nursing and spiritual care. However, once deemed incurable, they garnered minimal attention from physicians. Fortunately, modern hospice practices emerged in England around 1950.
Cicely Mary Saunders
About 70 years ago, a suburban-London nurse named Cicely Mary Saunders, who worked extensively with terminal patients, began writing and lecturing about providing dying individuals with pain control and compassionate care. One of Saunders’ patients, David Tasma, was battling cancer. The two became close friends, and upon his death, Tasma gifted Saunders a large sum of money that she would later use to establish St. Christopher’s Hospice.
After earning her medical degree in 1957, Dr. Saunders continued to explore the emerging hospice field. She challenged her medical colleague’s resistance to providing pain medication to terminally ill patients. At St. Christopher’s, Saunders pioneered the use of morphine to manage her patient’s pain.
At the same time, Saunders realized that terminal patients often experience more than physical pain. There is also psychological and spiritual stress, social pressures, and family dynamics issues. Hospice, she recognized, could provide relief in all those areas.
By attending to each patient’s physical, spiritual, and psychological well-being, Saunders revolutionized how the medical industry cared for terminal patients and their grieving loved ones. She proved that, with proper support, terminally ill patients could experience comfort, meaning, and joy in their final days.
A Model for Others
Knighted in 1965, Dr. Saunders was named a Dame of the British Empire in 1979 and awarded the Order of Merit ten years later. She died in 2005 at St. Christopher’s.
Cicely Saunders’ work became a model for hospice and palliative care in England and the United States. In 1968, one year after St. Christopher’s opening, the Yale School of Nursing’s dean, Florence Wald, took a sabbatical to work there. Dr. Wald wanted to experience the hospice practice first hand.
In 1974, Wald, along with two pediatricians and a chaplain, founded Connecticut Hospice in Branford, CT, the first hospice in the United States. Twelve years later, Congress passed legislation allowing states to include hospice in their Medicaid programs. And today, 1.5 million Americans use hospice every year.
Ashanti Hospice and Palliative Care
Ashanti is the preferred hospice and palliative care provider for all Sunset residents. We surround the client’s entire family with a network of caring individuals, and our team includes doctors, nurses, home health aides, social workers, chaplains, counselors, and trained volunteers.
Whenever possible, we work to uncover a patient’s long-held hopes and dreams and seek creative ways to make those wishes reality. We follow the client’s lead to determine what is most appropriate and fulfilling, be it sharing a family meal or supporting a beloved passion.
Contact us today for more information about Ashanti Hospice and Palliative Care.