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- 2013 - January - 2nd -

Workspace: Susan Ponder-Stansel, president and CEO, Community Hospice

  • Community Hospice President and CEO Susan Ponder-Stansel has been with the organization since its infancy and grown along the way with it. The end-of-life care organization provides comfort for patients in their final days and their families in Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties, making it one of the largest hospice networks in the U.S. She keeps an inspirational bulletin board behind her desk, recording her “happy moments” and considers the entire region her office.
    Photo by Laura Jane Pittman. Purchase this photo
  • Community Hospice President and CEO Susan Ponder-Stansel’s career began with the organization in 1985. She oversees the end-of-life care service for about 1,200 people daily at the organization’s five inpatient locations, among many duties.
    Photo by Laura Jane Pittman. Purchase this photo
  • Before and after photographs of the St. Augustine Lighthouse are on Ponder-Stansel’s wall. A longtime member of the Junior Service League of St. Augustine, she was instrumental in the 15-year campaign to restore the lighthouse, which officially became a museum in 1988. “When you live with history every day in a city like St. Augustine, preservation is very important,” she says.
    Photo by Laura Jane Pittman. Purchase this photo
  • Before and after photographs of the St. Augustine Lighthouse are on Ponder-Stansel’s wall. A longtime member of the Junior Service League of St. Augustine, she was instrumental in the 15-year campaign to restore the lighthouse, which officially became a museum in 1988. “When you live with history every day in a city like St. Augustine, preservation is very important,” she says.
    Photo by Laura Jane Pittman. Purchase this photo
  • Ponder-Stansel works in an adjacent building to the organization’s Earl B. Hadlow Center for Caring. She began at Community Hospice in 1985 as a volunteer clinical social worker and throughout her career has helped shape the future of end-of-life care in this region and across the nation. She says, “People say ‘You have a lot of dying people.’ I say, ‘We have living people.’”
    Photo by Laura Jane Pittman. Purchase this photo
  • When Ponder-Stansel became president and CEO of Community Hospice in 1991, the organization had no freestanding facilities – all hospice care took place in homes or other medical facilities. Now there are five inpatient facilities, including the Hadlow Center.
    Photo by Laura Jane Pittman. Purchase this photo
  • Flags from each branch of the military are displayed in the central lobby of the Hadlow Center of Community Hospice. When a patient arrives who has been in the military, the appropriate flag is displayed outside the door of the room and given to the family to keep.
    Photo by Laura Jane Pittman. Purchase this photo
  • When architect Ray Solomon designed the chapel in the Hadlow Center, he actually reconfigured the design to incorporate salvaged stained glass windows from Europe. “This is one of my favorite places in the center,” said Ponder-Stansel. “We have had a lot of funerals here, and one girl even got married here so her mother could attend.”
    Photo by Laura Jane Pittman. Purchase this photo
  • Ponder-Stansel spends a lot of time walking the halls and outdoor spaces of the Hadlow Center, including this memorial walkway commemorating patients of the center. Nine days is the average length of stay.
    Photo by Laura Jane Pittman. Purchase this photo

by Laura Jane Pittman, Contributing Writer

The face of end-of-life care has entirely changed throughout Susan Ponder-Stansel's career.

She began working for Community Hospice as a volunteer social worker in 1985, when hospice was in its infancy, and later became executive director in 1988.

She has served as president and CEO since 1991.

During her career, the services the organization provides — and the size of them — have grown. Community Hospice now has five inpatient locations, directs an enormous traveling outpatient team and serves as a partner to local hospitals, nursing homes and other medical facilities to bring multi-faceted services to patients and their families.

About 1,200 patients are served each day, with nearly 100 receiving care in one of the facilities. The centers are purposefully bright, cheerful and peaceful — serving as a final stop for patients and a comfort to their families.

The average stay is nine days.

"I remember in the 1980s, when I was working in home health care, that I felt a sense of failure because I didn't have the tools to comfort the people I cared for, as many of them were dying," said Ponder Stansel.

She has a master's degree in social work, with a focus in gerontology.

"When I began to work with hospice, I thought, 'Aha! This is a language I can understand.'" she said.

Community Hospice is one of the largest hospices in the U.S. It is a non-profit consortium made possible through the licensing of many area hospitals – hence "community" the aspect of its name.

A common vision by many, many hands made it happen, she said.

"Our palliative partnerships are excellent, and I see so much potential to continue the things we practice and believe," she said. "I think it's very important to come at it from a health care role, and not just from a business perspective. We need to always ask, 'How do we incorporate our mission so that hospice is not just a product?'"

Ponder-Stansel works in a building adjacent to the Earl B. Hadlow Center for Caring, Community Hospice's first freestanding facility. A 10-bed inpatient unit with a family lounge and kitchen is set to open next year at St. Vincent's Medical Center.

In addition to directing the organization's growth, she serves on a number of advisory boards, consults for the national hospice industry and writes and contributes to a number of publications.

"I think in the future, I'd like to do more teaching and training — I really do advocacy now to keep people focused on how we keep the compelling part of hospice in the face of all the changes to the medical system," she said. "I tend to do my best thinking when I'm mopping and folding laundry, and I have a lot more floors to clean."

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