Director bids adieu to Carroll Hospice A time to heal: After devoting five years to the care of the terminally ill, Julie Flaherty resigns so she can deal with a loss in her family.

April 29, 1996|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN STAFF

Five years ago, an offer to volunteer began Julie Flaherty's career as director of Carroll Hospice. Now that the hospice cares for more than 20 percent of the county's terminally ill, Ms. Flaherty has resigned as director and will soon join its volunteers.

As director since 1991, Ms. Flaherty has watched a fledgling group grow into a staff of 35 health workers and 200 volunteers who provide care to more than 200 terminally ill patients annually.

Concern for her family led Ms. Flaherty to resign this month, but she feels confident she is leaving hospice in "super competent" hands and strong enough to continue on its own.

"I feel like I have given birth after a five-year labor," said Ms. Flaherty, 42. "Clearly what the future holds remains unseen, but hospice's roots are deep now and it won't be shaken.

"It is easier for me to step down now and walk away with a sense of safeness. There are capable hands here to complete the mission of hospice."

Five years ago, the Westminster resident's offer to volunteer at Carroll Hospice turned into a full-time career. She found herself being interviewed for the director's job, the organization's only paid position at that time.

In 1991, hospice volunteers cared for 84 patients a year from an office that was one floor of a house. In 1996, hospice is providing more than 200 patients and their families with physical, emotional and spiritual support in homes and from a 7,000-square-foot-office on Carroll Street in Westminster. Its budget has increased from $60,000 to $1 million.

Last year, hospice staff and volunteers attended one of every five people who died in Carroll County and more than half of those who died from cancer.

During Ms. Flaherty's tenure, Carroll Hospice won Medicare certification, became affiliated with Carroll County Health Services, the parent company of Carroll County General Hospital, and employed a full clinical staff.

It runs comprehensive training programs for volunteers and has several programs to help families cope with grief, including a children's bereavement camp. Volunteers now are taking hospice care into nursing homes.

Ms. Flaherty's family has grown this year with the addition of 8-year-old twin nephews. A year ago, the sudden death of her mother, the custodian of the boys, left her to care for the children and her ailing father. She and her husband have two children, ages 13 and 21.

Instead of giving herself time to grieve for her mother, she plunged into her work, often devoting 60 or 70 hours a week to the job. As director, her schedule was often filled four nights a week and always one day of the weekend. She also spent time in Annapolis, testifying on bills affecting hospice.

But she felt the conflicts of family and career.

"I looked at all the things I could change and knew that career was the one I could," she said. "I had to find one that worked better with the family."

And, she learned she had to give herself time to grieve.

"I filled every minute of my life, but now I understand I have to grieve," she said. "Saying goodbye to hospice will allow me to work through the final stages of grief and healing. It's one of the most precious lessons I have learned. Patients and families are tremendous teachers here."

Hospice works with bereaved families for at least 13 months after the death of a loved one.

"I understand now how crucial that is," said Ms. Flaherty. "Now is zTC the time to assess that year and how my life has changed. Our bereavement team recognizes and affirms that to all survivors."

She will work part-time for a local physician -- no more than 30 hours a week.

"This will be a nice transition for me," she said. "I will rest in that harbor for a while and take an opportunity to rethink life, my family, my children, myself. My family and friends support my decision, but they know how difficult it is for me to let go of something I love so much. It is another loss."

Working with the dying taxes the strongest people, she said. She knows of 11 hospice colleagues who have stepped down in the past two years.

"Hospice becomes part of your life and tugs at every core of your emotions," she said.

"Many gave it 150 percent until they had nothing left. I always said I could be around death and deal with it. My personal experience changed my perspective."

She is not completely severing her ties, she said. She plans to return as a volunteer and to remain on call if anyone needs her.

"I would share everything I know. This has been the best work experience in my life."

She almost felt guilty as she spent her first weekends in months with no hospice-related activity.

"I have new life lessons to learn," she said. "Among those is how to be a better care giver to myself. This is not a midlife crisis, but a midlife adventure for me.

"I don't know what path is ahead but I have tremendous faith that I will step on the right one."

Carroll County Health Services hopes to announce a replacement for Ms. Flaherty soon.

Pub Date: 4/28/96

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