Thank you, docs!

Posted March 30, 2016 by hpccr
Categories: advocacy, awareness, hospice

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by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Marketing Manager

DocDay_logo_2016Today is National Doctors’ Day.

You might not know it, but we have thirteen doctors on our staff at HPCCR. They are not all full-time, but they are fully dedicated to our mission — all the time.

Our doctors have a personal reason for being here. Some have made end-of-life care a career for many years. Some have retired from previous careers and are finding a second turn here at HPCCR. Some have had personal experiences with hospice care or palliative medicine and decided that they wanted to be involved in some way. But they all have one thing in common — a passion for helping patients at end of life. Their presence brings peace of mind to patients and their loved ones.

So our message today is simple. To our HPCCR doctors and all other doctors caring for patients, thank you. Thank you for your dedication to the fragile human beings who depend on you. And thank you for offering your knowledge and expertise to provide relief. We certainly owe you — full-time, all the time.

Have a compassionate conversation with us

Posted March 24, 2016 by hpccr
Categories: advance directives, advocacy, awareness, education, end of life, hospice, Levine & Dickson Hospice House, Van Every Learning Resource Center

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by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Marketing Manager

NHDD day image“I wish I’d known about hospice sooner.”

We hear that sentence all the time. And we understand why — it’s a topic that most people don’t learn about (nor want to learn about) until they have to. Let’s face it. No one looks forward to talking about end of life. But it doesn’t have to be so hard, especially if you let us help you.

Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region will be hosting two special events next week, designed to make you more comfortable talking about end of life and what your wishes are concerning it. We’re holding these events to recognize National Healthcare Decisions Day which takes place each year on April 16 (the day specifically chosen because it falls right after tax day and we all know what Benjamin Franklin said about death and taxes. . . .)

The seminars are entitled Compassionate Conversations: It Always Seems Too Early, Until It’s Too Late, and we’ll be hosting them on Tuesday, March 29 (at Levine & Dickson Hospice House – Huntersville) and Thursday, March 31 (at the Philip L. Van Every Learning Resource Center). Both will begin at 6:15pm and last until 8:15 and to entice you to come, we’re having delicious appetizers and offering expert commentary from our extremely experienced nurse practitioner, Beth Martin, and our esteemed Medical Director, Dr. Robert Smith.

The two of them will explore a bunch of different tough and thought-provoking questions such as “How do I begin a conversation with a loved one or physician about healthcare planning?”; “What does it mean to do ‘everything’ possible during a healthcare crisis?”; and “What are the benefits and burdens of nutrition and ventilators at end of life?”

We encourage you to come to one of these events. See, if you have the conversation with us, then you can feel confident having the conversation with the people who matter most to you. Which ultimately would allow you to avoid having the conversation that begins with, “I wish I’d known about hospice sooner.”

There is no cost to attend these seminars, but you must pre-register. To do so, email Louise Giusto at For more information about the Compassionate Conversations seminars, you can contact Carol Anne Lawler at


Going “home”

Posted March 17, 2016 by hpccr
Categories: advocacy, end of life, hospice, spiritual care

Tags: , , ,

by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Marketing Manager


Zahyra Alvarez

What is home to you? Is it where you were born? Where you grew up? Or where you’ve lived the longest?

Or is home less of a place and more of a concept? Home could be wherever your spouse is. Or your children. Or your beloved pooch.

But it can be more complicated than that. Because often, it’s a combination of those things — places and people. That’s certainly the case for one of our patients, Zahyra Alvarez.

Zahyra was born in Honduras but came to the United States over 20 years ago with her husband and two children. They originally settled in California but they made their way to North Carolina and that’s where they’ve stayed.

Zahyra is 57 years old and Charlotte is home now. She lives with her daughter, Paola, and two adorable grandchildren. Her son is nearby in Salisbury and her sister is just up the road in Hendersonville.

But so many of her family are still in Honduras, including her mom whose 85th birthday is on Saturday. Zahyra is one of nine children (five girls, four boys) raised by this strong woman. NINE children and she did it all on her own. Not surprisingly, there will be a big birthday celebration to honor the matron of the family. In Honduras, of course.

Zahyra hasn’t been back to visit in almost two years, but she didn’t want to miss the festivities. It would be the first time in a while that all nine siblings would be together with their mother.

Making the trip is easier said than done, especially as a hospice patient. She recovered fairly well after recently having a kidney removed but her strength has been compromised. And she managed to catch pneumonia last week.

Then there’s the expense.

Flying internationally has never been cheap and when you have medical costs on top of everything else, money doesn’t exactly pop up from beneath couch cushions. Zahyra mentioned to her social worker, Allison, that she was planning to sell some crafts she’d made (she’s extremely creative) to raise money for airfare. But Allison had a better idea.

Allison suggested that HPCCR use the family fund to cover the cost of the tickets. The family fund is a reserve of money (funded largely by employee participation) used to help patients cover a particular cost that is extremely important. In the past we’ve used it for various reasons — winter clothing, a suit for a funeral, appliances, or bug extermination.


Zahyra’s daughter and eight-month-old granddaughter

This time we’re using it for tickets. Zahyra is leaving tomorrow, along with her sister, to fly to Honduras for two weeks to celebrate her mother’s birthday and spend time with her family. HPCCR is sending her “home”.

I use the quotations intentionally. Because after speaking with Zahyra, she made it clear that North Carolina is her physical home; she loves it here and told me that she doesn’t necessarily miss Honduras. But I can tell the old saying holds true for her: home is where the heart is. And here’s the rub. Her heart is with her family, but her family is in two separate places.

So she’s leaving home for “home”. Leaving her children and grandchildren in Charlotte for her mother and siblings in Honduras. And she’s doing it with a smile on her face and one of the most positive attitudes I’ve seen in any HPCCR patient.

When I asked Zahyra how she felt about everything coming together the way it did she told me, “Nothing is coincidence. I have angels because God has sent me a lot of them.” Many of those angels are in her hospice care team, the individuals who are making sure she’s in the best shape possible to travel. And certainly one of them is her social worker Allison, who erased the worry of raising money for two tickets to Central America.

As for the rest of the angels? May they stay close to Zahyra in every place she calls “home”, all the way until she reaches her heavenly one.




Happy birthday to us!

Posted March 8, 2016 by hpccr
Categories: awareness, end of life, hospice, Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region

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by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Marketing Manager

38th birthdayIt’s March 8th, a very important day for HPCCR. It’s our birthday (yay!) And, contrary to the way many of us feel about getting older, we absolutely love it.

As of today, we’ve been incorporated for 38 years. That’s a long time! To date we’ve cared for well over 40,000 hospice patients and even more family members. We’ve also offered palliative care to individuals facing life-threatening illness, grief support to countless community members, and educational presentations in venues across our service area. We’ve grown so much — from serving just Mecklenburg County when we first started in 1978 to now serving 11 counties in both North and South Carolina.

And we love getting older because, like fine wine and your favorite pair of jeans, HPCCR just get better with age. Each additional year means more experience. More unique patients to learn from. More outstanding care. It’s confirmation that we are doing our job and supporting our community in the best possible way.

Each person in this organization makes it possible to celebrate March 8 again and again with a sense of pride and accomplishment. Because ultimately, we are all in it for the same reason — to support our patients and the people who love them. To make end of life honorable, peaceful, and beautiful for all of them.

So today we light candles and make a wish. We close our eyes tight and imagine a community where people think about end of life before they have to. We wish for broad acceptance of (and appreciation for) the many benefits of hospice care.

Needless to say, HPCCR will continue to enjoy our March 8ths, getting older and better each year. That may seem like an impossible task, but hey, if George Clooney can do it, so can we.


Hope for a change

Posted February 25, 2016 by hpccr
Categories: advance directives, advocacy, awareness, caregiving, end of life, hospice, special events

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by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Marketing Manager

AtulGawandeThere are often stereotypes that accompany surgeons. I can’t say for sure that the stereotypes hold any weight because I simply haven’t met many surgeons. But isn’t there usually a reason that stereotypes exist? Who knows. Anyway, this is what I’ve heard about surgeons: brash, cold, confident (verging on cocky), brilliant, terse, aggressive.

The surgeon I listened to last night was none of those things. Except brilliant.

Yes, Dr. Atul Gawande is a surgeon. But he’s also a professor (at Harvard) and an author. His most recent book, Being Mortal: What Matters in the End is on the New York Times Best Seller’s List and has been for months. The man knows his stuff.

He came to Charlotte to participate in the Learning Society of Queens (University) lecture series. HPCCR was one of the presenting sponsors for his presentation last night and I was lucky enough to score a ticket.

Dr. Gawande has been thoughtfully considering end-of-life issues since he was a junior surgical resident. Over his many years in medicine, he has seen various outcomes for patients, ranging from aggressive measures to comfort care. He believes that everyone has a right to make their own decisions about what they want to do in the face of terminal illness — that was not the focus of his remarks last night.

What needs to change, according to Dr. Gawande, is the approach of physicians.

Physicians need to be better about asking patients what their priorities are, he says. They come in and talk to the patient but, in reality, their time talking needs to be cut in half. What should doctors be doing instead? Listening.

These are the questions that should be in their arsenal: “What is your understanding of your illness right now?”; “What are your goals if time is short?”; and “What are your fears?” Getting the answers to those questions will help determine the best course of treatment. It will get to the root of what kind of quality of life is acceptable. Because, in our job, it’s all about quality of life.

Dr. Gawande told the story of a hospice nurse who said something to him one day that stopped him in his tracks. She was in the room, doing a million things at once — adjusting pillows, adjusting meds, taking vitals, changing lines. In other words, she was totally focused on the needs of the patient. When Dr. Gawande remarked on her level of activity she said, “You’re a surgeon. Your job is to sacrifice time now for time later. My job is to give people their best possible day today.”

Ultimately, it was an inspiring evening. Dr. Gawande gave the room hope that we, as a society, are moving into an age where we can be comfortable with death. He talked about a new generation of physicians who won’t accept practicing medicine in the “traditional” environment we’ve had for so long. Dr. Gawande believes that we will soon see an entire cadre of young clinicians who believe they can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. And we, as future patients, can do better too. He ended with, “If we define clarity about our goals and we all respect them, I think we can have extraordinary change.”

It’s happening, folks. Change is coming. The sheer fact that a surgeon talking about end of life sold out a one thousand-person theater speaks volumes about our current appetite on this topic. And those young clinicians our renowned speaker anticipates? They are going to smash the surgeon stereotypes; they are going to rewrite the job description. They will be like Dr. Gawande– thoughtful, kind, compassionate, communicative. They’ll be all those things and more. They’ll be brilliant.




The perfect act

Posted February 17, 2016 by hpccr
Categories: awareness, end of life, hospice, Hospice & Palliative Care Charlotte Region

Tags: ,

by Andrea Powell, HPCCR Marketing Manager

Random Acts of Kindness DaySo how are you celebrating today? I know, there are just so many things you could choose to do, it’s hard to pick the perfect act. Wait, you don’t know what day it is, do you?

Well, Happy National Random Acts of Kindness Day!

What a great concept, huh?

Today is the day to do something special for another person. Just a small act; it doesn’t need to be a grand gesture. Pay for someone’s coffee behind you in line. Send a card to someone who has been going through a rough patch. Bake cookies. There are a million things you could do.

Hospice care is all about random acts of kindness. Our staff does them every day. It’s a nurse carefully trimming the fingernails of a patient, a social worker finding a recording of the song that a couple first danced to at their wedding.  It’s a nursing assistant gently bathing a patient, and a chaplain honoring the end-of-life religious traditions of a Buddhist family.  It’s these random acts of kindness that the families remember when reflecting on a good death; they are what prompt families to say that their experience with hospice was peaceful and beautiful.

Don’t get me wrong, there have been grand gestures too. Our patient getting to see Star Wars before she died, for example. Finding a golf cart for a patient who needed to get around his property but didn’t have the means to do so. Procuring a blimp ride for a patient who had always had it on her bucket list.

But today is about the small things. And maybe today you don’t try to think of the perfect act. Maybe today you just do a bunch of small things to bring a smile to the faces of people you care about. Or a smile to the faces of people you don’t even know. That seems pretty perfect to me.