William Finn and the Hospice of the Western Reserve engage the community in end-of-life care support

Often when we hear the term hospice, we think of an elderly person who’s lived a good, long life and is now in need of end-of-life care. Cleveland-based Hospice of the Western Reserve, however, provides many more resources than just end-of-life care.

For instance, do you have a bucket list? The Hospice of the Western Reserve will give you one more shot at crossing an item off your list. Looking for resources about hospice care? It has one of the few nationally certified libraries dedicated to the subject. Have you recently experienced a traumatic event? The Hospice of the Western Reserve is often one of the first to respond to crises such as school shootings or suicides.

You more than likely didn’t know the Hospice of the Western Reserve did all of this. Since becoming its CEO in 2011, William Finn has been focused on making sure more people know about the Hospice of the Western Reserve and the numerous services it has to offer the community.

“There are 48 hospices in Northern Ohio and 158 in the state,” Finn says. “Part of what makes us unique is our ability to bring resources in a very significant way. Our scope of services, quality, reputation and innovation are the best, and it’s all based on customer service.”

This year, the Hospice of the Western Reserve celebrated its 35th anniversary. Finn wants to continue to focus on the matters that will keep the organization nationally recognized.

“Thirty-five years makes us one of the oldest hospices in America, and it’s a real testament to the staying power of the Hospice of the Western Reserve,” Finn says. “We talk about ourselves as the hospice of choice. When you have to make a choice about end-of-life care, we want to prompt you, educate you and support you in making the decisions that are best for you.”

Here’s how Finn continues to advance the Hospice of the Western Reserve while helping spread the word of its services and community programs.

Make the public aware

Not everyone wants to spend time thinking about end-of-life care, but it’s central and fundamental to what good living is all about.

“We make plans on how we want to retire,” Finn says. “We make plans on how we want to go to school and better ourselves and what we want out of work. We make plans on how and when to bring children into the world and raise them. Equally, we need to have a little bit of attention to say, ‘How would you like to live as you approach the end of your life?’”

The Hospice of the Western Reserve empowers its patients and families to be in charge of their care and make their own decisions, but ensures those people are making decisions that fit their needs best.

“We need to find the right touch points that help engage people in why these discussions are important and what they mean,” Finn says. “We are looking at how we influence people through community discussions and ways to engage, educate and empower people to make the decisions that are best for them when they find themselves in such circumstances.”

In addition to taking care of the elderly, the Hospice of the Western Reserve also provides care to a lot of different populations.

“We have one of the largest pediatric palliative care and hospice programs in the whole country,” he says. “What’s so unique about it is that it’s a pediatric-staffed program. We’ve taken the time and the cost to hire pediatric nurses, child-life specialists and people that have a bona fide expertise in pediatrics, and it makes a huge difference.”

Link to the community

It’s not just the people who come to the Hospice of the Western Reserve that receive the services of the organization. The Hospice of the Western Reserve is a community not for profit, and much of what it does every day creates linkages and webs into the community.

“One of the things we do that’s extremely unique is we have a nationally certified end-of-life library here,” Finn says. “It’s an actual library with a librarian. It not only serves professionals here in the U.S. but the entire world. The library has resources on a whole range of bereavement topics from things such as teen suicide to pet loss.”

Another resource offered by the Hospice of the Western Reserve is its community response to trauma. When there is a community tragedy such as a school shooting, teen suicide or car crash, its Elizabeth Severance Prentiss Bereavement Center is the first responder.

“The example that probably stands out the loudest is the Chardon tragedy,” he says. “When that happened, we did more counseling at Chardon than any other organization.

“We are back at Chardon often when these kinds of things hit the paper to help deal with kids who may be having horrible dreams and parents who are very nervous. Those are all natural responses, but they need help working that through.”

While work in the hospice field can be hard to handle more often than not, the Hospice of the Western Reserve strives to celebrate life.

“The more time you spend with us the more you realize this is not about death and dying,” Finn says. “That’s not why we’re here. That’s not what we do. What we do is make sure people live fully up until the moment they die, and we do that extraordinarily well.”

The hospice has a program it calls Life Enrichment in which patients can request to do one more thing before they die.

“As people approach the end of their life, sometimes it’s not the trip to Disney World,” he says. “Sometimes it’s talking to a brother they haven’t spoken to in 25 years, or someone who is worried their son won’t make it home from Afghanistan before they die.”

The hospice makes these wishes come true more than 1,000 times a year throughout 10 counties in Ohio.

“We do a lot of those things every day all over the 10 counties, and they are often unspoken and unseen except for the family that we’ve touched,” Finn says.

In addition to fulfilling patient requests, the hospice also gives patient’s families opportunities to spend time together through a program called Meal To Remember.

“When a family has something to celebrate or something to work through, it happens at the kitchen table,” he says. “That goes out the window when someone is sick.

“When somebody’s sick, all of a sudden you’re not eating dinner together. Life doesn’t feel normal anymore, and it certainly doesn’t feel enjoyable.”

Meal To Remember is a partnership with high-end restaurants to recreate that ability for families to be together at the table. Every month a different restaurant comes in and cooks a gourmet meal for the patients and their families.

“Often this is the last time patients are together with their extended family,” he says. “Many of our partner restaurants view this as the best use of their time and talents.”

Ongoing engagement

To be a world-class health care provider, the organization has to empower others to use the talent and expertise it has developed.

“We are an education institute and train the next generations of physicians in hospice and palliative care,” Finn says. “We are contributing to the field pretty significantly, more than any other hospice in Ohio certainly, and maybe even in the Midwest.”

The hospice utilizes about 2,500 volunteers, which puts it in distinctive territory.

“We’re the largest user of volunteers after United Way in Ohio,” he says. “These folks do everything. These volunteers are incredibly talented people that are retired from a position of expertise and now they’re bringing that expertise over here to help us out.” ●

How to reach: Hospice of the Western Reserve, (800) 707-8922 or www.hospicewr.org