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."