By Todd Cohen
GREENSBORO, N.C. – As a college undergraduate in the 1970s, Pam Barrett studied death, dying, grief and bereavement, and learned about the emerging hospice movement that had just been imported to the United States from England.
After graduate school, as social-work director at a Nashville hospital, Barrett served as a consultant to help a small hospital in nearby Centerville launch a hospice program.
And when organizers of a hospice program in Greensboro in the early 1980s were looking for their first executive director, they hired Barrett.
Now, after 22 years heading Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro and building it into a model program, Barrett is moving on.
On April 1, she will become executive vice president for organizational excellence at Hospice and Palliative Care-Charlotte Region, where she will join CEO Janet Fortner, a long-time colleague who has headed the Charlotte agency since 1983.
Like British hospices, which depend on the generosity of local donors who rally around “royal patrons,” Barrett says, the Hospices in Greensboro and Charlotte have thrived because of strong community support.
Hospice Greensboro, which was founded in 1980, raised $1.8 million in a 1990 campaign to build its permanent home, $1.8 million in a 1995 campaign to build a 14-bed residential and in-patient facility known as Beacon Place, and $2.1 million five years later to build a facility to serve seriously ill and grieving children.
That children’s program, known as Kids Path, serves 30 seriously-ill children a day, and provides grief counseling to 400 children a year.
It is the first program of its kind and has served as a model for pediatric palliative-care programs in nine other communities, including Asheville, Charlotte and Wilmington.
Hospice was able to launch the program, Barrett says, only with financial contributions from the community that supplement the reimbursement revenue the agency needs to deliver its basic health-care services.
Hospice also has teamed up with Moses H. Cone Memorial Hospital to form a team of palliative-care experts to consult with people who may not be eligible for Hospice but may be need its services.
Hospice, which has an annual budget of $14.7 million, employs 164 people full-time and 32 people part-time employees and counts on over 200 volunteers.
It provides health-care services to roughly 280 to 300 clients a day, and serves 1,600 adult clients a year with bereavement and counseling services.
The agency raises $1 million a year in private contributions, and in the past two years has more than doubled its endowment to $5.5 million in a campaign that aims to increase the endowment to $10 million.
The funds will be used to generate investment income to underwrite programs not funded by reimbursement revenue, and to make Hospice less vulnerable to the ups and downs of the economy and local giving patterns, Barrett says.
In addition to the critical challenge of continuing to generate private support, Barrett says, Hospice faces a tough job in raising awareness about the services it provides and the difference they can make for people affected by serious illness, death and grief.
While it has become the “gold standard” in end-of-life care, she says, many people “have no idea what Hospice is,” and “too many people wait until their families are exhausted and symptoms are out of control” before calling Hospice.”