I like to think I know a bit about hospice, including the story of Dame Cicely Saunders, regarded as the founder of hospice in London after World War II. The idea was planted in her heart when she worked with a Polish refugee after the war, then as a volunteer nurse in a hospital. Focusing on the whole person care, Ms. Saunders established St. Christopher’s Hospice, considered to be the first organized hospice program. Crossroads Hospice
Jump across the pond to the United States. Dr. Bernice Catherine Harper is the first woman of color to earn a Master of Science in Public Health from Harvard (1959). Because segregation was rampant in Virginia, she was unable to continue her education there and moved across the country to complete her degree in Master of Social Work in California.
Always fighting racism and lack of compassion and justice, Ms. Harper worked tirelessly to find a way to provide hospice benefits to those facing end-of-life. She found the perfect platform to pursue that goal – by accepting a position with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services where she worked for almost 36 years. She was pivotal in getting Medicare funding for hospice (1982), a benefit that proved to be essential to millions of people facing end-of-life. Her focus was to make sure patients would benefit from the care from a physician, a nurse, medical social services, and counseling at end-of-life. socialworker.com
Today’s hospice benefit includes those same services – physician, nurse, social worker, and chaplain. Many hospices offer integrative therapies such as massage, music, and pet therapy. Hospices also maintain a core of dedicated volunteers to offer respite for family and dedicated time with the patient.
Another woman of color to make a difference was Rebecca Lee Crumpler, the first Black female doctor in the United States. In 1860, she applied to the New England Female Medical College in Boston. She published A Book of Medical Discourses in Two Parts, and dedicated the book to “…mothers, nurses, and all who may desire to mitigate the afflictions of the human race.” PBS Newshour
After the Civil War, Congress created the Freedmen’s Bureau (United States Bureau of Refugees) as an agency for the emancipated slaves. Ms. Crumpler joined the Bureau and spent her time providing care to the people the white physicians refused to see – the emancipated slaves. New York Times. Ms. Crumpler died on March 9, 1895.