Press Release

Programs Bring Innovation to Palliative and End-of-Life Care

Three programs that expand the reach of palliative and end-of-life care will be recognized as the 2009 recipients of the Circle of Life Award®: Celebrating Innovation in End-of-Life Care, along with two others that were awarded citations of honor.

Four Seasons in Flat Rock, N.C.; Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) in Portland, Ore.; and Wishard Health Services in Indianapolis, Ind. will each receive a Circle of Life Award at a ceremony on July 24 in San Francisco.

"Dealing with life-threatening illness and end-of-life decisions is difficult for all involved and today's Circle of Life honorees understand that respect, compassion and honesty are vital aspects of palliative care," said AHA President & CEO Rich Umbdenstock.  "As our nation looks to true health reform, end-of-life and palliative care will be important components and these honorees are truly inspirational and help serve as models.

This is the tenth year for the Circle of Life Award.  The 2009 award is supported, in part, by the California Healthcare Foundation, based in Oakland, CA, and by the Archstone Foundation.  Major sponsors of the 2009 awards are the American Hospital Association, the American Association of Homes and Services for the Aging, the Catholic Health Association, and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization & National Hospice Foundation.  The American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine and the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association are 2009 Circle of Life co-sponsors.

Citations of Honor were awarded to Gilchrist Hospice Care and Greater Baltimore Medical Center in Towson, Md., for their integrated and comprehensive approach to end-of-life and palliative care and St. John's Regional Medical Center and St. John's Pleasant Valley Hospital located in Oxnard and Camarillo, Calif., in recognition of their strong transdisciplinary team, leadership in advance directives and impressive bereavement services. 

Highlights of the Circle of Life Award programs

Four Seasons- Flat Rock, N.C.
Although involved with the burgeoning hospice movement since it was founded over 25 years ago, Four Seasons now cares for 2,232 people on a yearly basis with a full range of hospice and palliative care, research and bereavement services offered.  The reason for its success stems in part from a decision in 2002 by the board of directors to take Four Seasons to the next level.  The community embraced the decision and Four Seasons grew from serving just 26 percent of all deaths in its area to 76 percent. 

Four Seasons has a multi-disciplinary approach to improving patients' physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being.  Using a team of physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, social workers and chaplains who work in hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and homes throughout the community patients receive care where they need it and in a way conducive to their needs.  Also through collaborations with researchers at renowned institutions like Duke University in Durham, N.C. and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Dallas patients have access to advanced treatments.  With a stated mission, 'to affirm life and provide holistic care in harmony with the goals of individuals with chronic, serious or life-limiting conditions, while offering support to their families and loved ones,' Four Seasons and its caregivers excel and are being recognized for their successful approach.  

Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) - Portland, Ore.
The Palliative Medicine and Comfort Care team (PMCCT) was created as part of Oregon Health & Science University's (OHSU) mission to improve the health and well-being of the people in Oregon.  Palliative care, although not new, has received greater attention and refinement in the past decade.  PMCCT has been a leader in this process and understand that treating those with life-threatening illnesses involves caring for the whole person - alleviating suffering and promoting the quality of life. 

PMCCT's focus on research and education are integral to the success of the program.  By focusing their research on how palliative care impacts the patient and the organization and not just the financial side, they make impressive strides in quality care.  They have also sought to standardize data collection to further expand their education efforts.  Over the past five years through conferences and outreach, over 16,440 person-hours of continuing education in palliative care basics and program development have been provided to 2,740 health care practitioners.  Serving approximately 500 patients a year, OHSU through PMCCT is committed to the changing the culture of its organization to best provide for patients and help meet their needs - whatever that means for the individual they are caring for. 

Wishard Health Services - Indianapolis, Ind.
Wishard, a safety net hospital, recognized over a decade ago that treatment of those with terminal illness could be done in a better way.  Today Wishard Health Services has a committed and flexible team that is impressive.  Patients in addition to their medical problems may be in poverty, homeless or face daunting personal and psychological problems, but Wishard finds solutions and provide care.  Wishard's ownership of patients is evidenced by efforts to track down an estranged family member or home visits by physicians.

Today with over 600 patients consulted annually, it has been vital for Wishard to develop true interdisciplinary care that may involve nurses, doctors or chaplaincy to capably provide for the many needs of their patients.  Wishard's passion and leadership for palliative care extends into all aspects of their organization.  Fundamentally, Wishard hopes to achieve continuity and comprehensive care for what can be a very difficult patient population to treat.  By working with the most difficult cases, Wishard is able to help those with the greatest needs and make a big impact on their community.

This year, about 50 nominations were received and reviewed by a selection committee that included leaders from medicine, nursing, social work and health administration.  The committee visited programs that respect patient goals and preferences, provide comprehensive care, acknowledge and address the family or caregivers' concerns and needs and build systems and mechanisms of support that will ensure that the programs continue.  The programs selected serve as innovative models for other communities.  For more information on the Circle of Life Award, visit

About the AHA

The AHA is a not-for-profit association of health care provider organizations and individuals that are committed to the health improvement of their communities. The AHA is the national advocate for its members, which include nearly 5,000 hospitals, health care systems, networks, other providers of care and 43,000 individual members. Founded in 1898, the AHA provides education for health care leaders and is a source of information on health care issues and trends. For more information, visit the AHA website at

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