End-of-Life Care is Focus of New Hospice Comfort Care Fund

Women’s Leadership Council Sets $2 Million Fundraising Goal

It was 14 years ago that Lahey Hospital & Medical Center began offering palliative care — comfort care for people with life-limiting illnesses.

“We were one of the earliest programs in the Boston area,” noted Dr. Elizabeth Collins, who directs the hospital’s Palliative Care Program. “That tells you a lot about our patient- and family-centered philosophy. Palliative care offers that hard-to-find ‘Marcus Welby, MD’ personalized relationship for our sickest patients.” It is a growing need at the hospital, which in 2017 saw more than 900 new palliative care consults for inpatients.

WLC pledges support to end-of-life care

In 1992, an early member of the Women’s Leadership Council (WLC), Betsy Harpley, established a palliative care fund in memory of her husband. The Theodore Raymond Harpley Endowment Fund aids cancer patients who need help funding end-of-life care services and disburses more than $70,000 in grants a year.

Now, the WLC has taken the baton to extend those services to all of LHMC’s sickest patients. “After Dr. Collins presented a lecture on palliative care to our group, every woman in the room felt this was an initiative we should support,” said WLC Co-chair Randi Conley. “We began thinking that a five-year, $1 million pledge would be a stretch but one we wanted to make. However, before we left the room, we’d talked ourselves into $2 million! That’s how compelling this cause is.”

Caring for patients throughout their life journeys

The WLC’s vision is that any patient who comes to Lahey Hospital & Medical Center will have the opportunity to improve end-of-life experiences for themselves and for their families.

A modest, need-based grant of $1,500 from the newly established WLC Hospice Comfort Care Fund would enable families to afford supplemental help in their homes or care at a hospice facility. The hospital’s case management staff and social services professionals will identify candidates for the fund and recommend grants — there is no application process.

“The difficulties of providing, managing and paying for end-of-life care can be debilitating,” said Cynthia (Cindy) Gruber, a founder of the WLC who has spearheaded the comfort care initiative. “All of us on the WLC believe this fund will enable families to concentrate on being there for each other emotionally at a critical time.”

Indeed, the grants can have an amazing impact. “Physicians and nurse practitioners have shared some heartrending stories with us,” said WLC Co-chair Kathy Huber. “Not all patients are going to be able to go home healthy. We asked ourselves, ‘What can we do for them?’ These small gems of grants can make the difference.”

Adding comfort and dignity

“People generally express a desire to spend their final days at home,” said Cindy, who has won awards for her documentary, Aside from That, which explores end-of-life issues. “It shouldn’t be a ‘luxury’ to be with family and friends in the comfort of home. The fund will make this final wish possible for many.”

Agreeing with Cindy was another WLC volunteer, Gretchen Fox Stein, who immediately matched Cindy’s gift to launch the fund.

Lahey’s unique leadership role

Dr. Collins noted that what Lahey is doing is unique, and she believes the hospital’s commitment to comfort care could become a model for others in Massachusetts. “The thing I love the most about this WLC fund is that it says: We take care of you all through your life,” she said. “And that’s what I think health care is about.”

The Hospice Comfort Care Fund will be the WLC’s forever legacy, there in perpetuity to help ease end-of-life care and transitions for patients and their loved ones.

To support WLC, you may participate in any of the following events and programs:

  • Attend the annual Ladies’ Night Out each year. Funds raised at this event support the Hospice Comfort Care Fund.
  • Attend our Women’s Health Lecture Series on June 6.
  • Learn from the WLC archive of lectures.
  • Contact us about WLC volunteer opportunities or board and committee membership.