family hospice introduces itself

Mt. Lebanon’s Community Relations Board is considering sponsoring  a forum that could spike volunteerism and  facilitate partnerships among nonprofit agencies that provide social services to residents.  To that end, the board is  inviting a  representative of a service provider to each meeting.  Last month Maureen Haggerty, vice president of development for Family Hospice and Palliative Care, discussed the agency’s steady  growth over the past three decades  and the breadth of services it now provides.

Created by St. Clair Hospital, Mercy Hospital, South HIlls Health System and South Hills Interfaith Ministries in 1980, Family Hospice is now the leading Western Pennsylvania provider of end-of- life care and compassionate care to patients with life-limiting illnesses. Once based out of a single office, Hospice now has 275 employees in five offices spread over 9 counties and serves about 475 people a day, Haggerty said.  And although Hospice continues to provide most of its services to people in their homes, the Center for Compassionate Care, located in the beautifully renovated former Ward Home on Moffett Street in Mt. Lebanon, provides 12 home-like rooms for patients who may not be able to be cared for in their own residences.  Interestingly, Haggerty said, many people come to the Center for a week to get stronger and then return to their homes.  “Most people  would rather die at home,” Haggerty  explained. Another Center for Compassionate Care will with 14 rooms will open in the former Canterbury Place in Lawrenceville in February 2013.

To facilitate peoples’ wish to die at home, Hospice  recently applied for and received a tele-hospice grant.  This allows  a hard drive and monitor with a touch screen to be installed in a patient’s home, so that a frightened or exhausted caregiver can talk face to face with a hospice nurse who can intervene, providing expert advice before the caregiver calls 911 and the patient inevitably returns to the hospital.  A typical patient goes to the hospital twice in the last two weeks of life at a cost of $30,000, Haggerty said, while Hospice care over the same period of time costs about $2,000.

Hospice care is covered by most medical insurance; however, Hospice also delivers several thousand dollars of indigent  and uncompensated care each year, Haggerty said.  Unknown to many people is the fact that Hospice also provides long-term, end-of-life care under contract to  people in 70 skilled nursing facilities and 20 hospitals throughout the region.

Hospice cares not only for the patients but for the caregivers, providing volunteers to give family members a break from caring for their ill loved ones.  Hospice also cares for families after a death, providing support groups and offering the popular Camp Healing Hearts and Bereavement Program for children. And there is an annual Memorial Walk and a eight holiday memorial trees that pay tribut to those who have passed and also help raise funds for Hospice programs.

The agency could not do its work without volunteers, Haggerty said. There are many ways people can volunteer, and  training is available.  One unique program is the Candlelight Companion  program, where a volunteer sits with a dying person, chatting, reading, playing  music or just holding hands. Volunteers also are needed to do more mundane but  important things such as office work, gardening or transporting patients to appointments. They also can help provide other services patients receive such as pet therapy, music therapy or free massages.

“Hospice is all about living,” Haggerty told the board.

For more information about Family Hospice and Palliative Care, visit

Members of the community relations board are:  Susanne Wagner, president, Dianne Wainwright, vice president, Nancy Carroll, Carl Templin and Karen Durham.  The board meets the second Wednesday of each month in the Commission Chambers at the Municipal Building. There is always public comment.  If you would like to speak to the board about your organization as part of an agenda, contact staff liaison Susan Morgans, 412-343-3780 or