Home » Get Help » Our Services » Grief Support » Grief Support Groups Registration
View our most recent Grief Support Flyer below to see our current group offerings.
Click images below to enlarge.
Complete the form below to request Grief Support Services with a Grief Counselor
Steve Cone is Chief of Communications, Marketing, and Philanthropy at Capital Caring Health. In this role, he provides leadership to increase public and brand awareness of Capital Caring Health, and he also oversees the organization’s philanthropic activities and develops strategies to enhance the organization’s impact and reach.
Prior to his role with Capital Caring Health, Steve co-managed a data consulting and marketing services firm headquartered in New York. From 2015 to 2017, Steve was Chief Revenue Officer of the American Bar Association and from 2010 through June 2015, Steve was AARP’s Executive Vice President responsible for all membership activities and partnerships with corporations across America.
With more than 45 years of senior-level marketing and fundraising experience, he has created or led efforts to develop many national loyalty programs including United’s MileagePlus®, Hyatt’s Gold Passport, and Saks Fifth Avenue’s, SaksFirst rewards program.
Steve has provided marketing services to major organizations including Apple, American Express, FedEx, Memorial Sloan-Kettering, and the San Diego Zoo. Steve has also led marketing campaigns for environmental groups like The Nature Conservancy and the World Wildlife Fund. He has also provided marketing support to presidential campaigns for both major parties.
Mia DeBarbieri is the Vice President of Business Development for Capital Caring Health. In addition to leading a team of professionals who provide external advocacy for those in need of Advanced Illness Care, she is also responsible for the cultivation and implementation of integrated marketing and business development initiatives that support Capital Caring Health’s mission, vision, and core values.
Mia was a noteworthy leader in the fields of finance, telecommunications, and technology before pivoting to senior healthcare leadership more than a decade ago. During this time, she has personally assisted countless families find support for their loved ones across all areas of the senior healthcare spectrum.
Carrie is the Vice President, Clinical Performance. In this role she provides direction in all quality of care and performance improvement initiatives and acts as liaison between CMS/CGS and other Medicare Administrative Contractors. She has worked in healthcare a cumulative total of 30+ years, 15 of those in the Hospice and Palliative Care environment. She received her Bachelor of Science Degree in Nursing from Chamberlain College of Nursing in Downer’s Grove Illinois.
Carrie joined Capital Caring Health, when it was known as Capital Hospice, in 2007 when the newly revised Medicare Conditions of Participation were released. This revision to the Regulations created the “QAPI” regulation for hospice, and Carrie was the first nurse appointed to the newly created Quality Department, eventually rising to Director of Quality, and then to her current position as Vice President, Clinical Performance. She believes that fostering a culture of trust is integral to promoting change that enhances the quality of the care provided to each patient and family, every day.
Gary Bacher, J.D., MPA, is Chief of Strategy, Policy, & Legal Affairs at Capital Caring Health. In this role, Gary directs efforts to determine how best to improve all aspects of advanced illness and hospice care throughout Capital Caring Health and on a national level.
Gary most recently served as Chief Strategy Officer at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Innovation where he was responsible for directing the development of new models and initiatives to improve and refine value-based care. For more than a decade, he has led efforts in health care improvement, operating at the intersection of public policy, law, regulatory affairs and business development. Gary is widely recognized as a national expert on a broad range of health plans, encompassing providers, employers, state-based exchanges and government organizations. He has also served as a policy and legal advisor on issues including fraud and abuse, antitrust, HIPAA, government payment systems, and FDA rules and regulations.
Gary also served on active military duty from 1996-2000, as Assistant to the Army General Counsel and during that period assisted at the White House Counsel’s Office. He holds a JD from Stanford Law School, an MPA from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University, and a BA from Georgetown University.
Kieran Shah, CHPCA, is Chief Growth Officer at Capital Caring Health. He is well known for his innovative approach to business development leading to enhanced patient access for both Hospice and Palliative Care. In this role, Kieran coordinates with all parties involved in providing hospice and advanced illness care including the medical community, community government and business leaders, insurers, service partners, patients and their families, and internal staff and volunteers.
As Chief Growth Officer, Kieran also works to elevate our mission, values, and care services to a wider population.
Altonia Garrett, MBA, MHA, RN, is Vice President of Public Affairs and Strategic Partnerships. She has worked at Capital Caring Health for more than a decade holding leadership roles including Clinical Supervisor, General Manager, and Executive Director for offices in Falls Church and Alexandria, Virginia and Prince George’s County, Maryland. As VP of Public Affairs and Strategic Partnerships, she leads organizational-wide initiatives to build, strengthen, and maintain relationships with key stakeholders that advance the work of Capital Caring Health. Altonia also works closely and collaborates with policy makers, elected leaders, and industry partners as well as oversees the organization’s relationship with local, state and federal legislative and executive branches in Richmond, Virginia; Annapolis, Maryland; and Washington, D.C.
On a national level, Altonia works with the National Partnership for Hospice Innovation as the Program Director for Innovation Lab. In this role, she supports all Innovation Lab activities, including the upcoming launch of the advanced disease specific programs and the ongoing development of other Innovation Lab programs.
Jason Parsons is Vice President of Public Affairs and Philanthropy at Capital Caring Health. In addition to overseeing Capital Caring Health’s corporate and foundation relations and philanthropic partnerships, Parsons also leads various aspects of Capital Caring Health’s relationships with local, state, and federal elected leaders, business groups, advocacy organizations and other stakeholders to build support for Capital Caring Health’s mission.
Prior to joining Capital Caring Health, Jason served as Executive Director of Business for West Virginia where he advised the West Virginia Secretary of State. He also served as the Executive Director of Keep Prince William Beautiful, a not-for-profit serving Prince William County, Virginia, where he led the organization to record fundraising and new programs and initiatives.
Laura Branker is Vice President of Philanthropy at Capital Caring Health. A strategist who develops impactful outreach plans amplified with crisp messaging and strong collaboration with stakeholders and partners, Laura has built a career that crosses the private, public and nonprofit sectors, working for brands such as AARP, Wal-Mart, and United Health Group. Most recently, Laura designed and led global skills-based executive volunteer programs for multi-national corporations. She has held senior political appointments in Florida and District of Columbia governments. Laura graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism from Florida A&M University, and served two terms on the university’s Board of Trustees. As a delegate for the American Council of Young Political Leaders, she traveled as a United States representative to Venezuela and as the team lead to the Republic of Korea. She is an alumna of the Georgetown Leadership Seminar hosted by Georgetown University’s School of Diplomacy. Committed to volunteerism, Laura enjoys contributing her time and leadership to community and civic organizations. She is an avid supporter of cultural and performing arts.
Linda Biedrzycki, MHA, an innovative healthcare administrator with a proven track record in effectively managing physician practices, serves as Vice President of Practice Management at Capital Caring Health.
In this role, she is responsible for daily business operations of our new Primary Care at Home (PCH) service as well as CCH’s hospice and palliative care programs.
Prior to joining Capital Caring Health, Linda was the Administrative Director for Emergency Medicine at MedStar Medical Group. During her time at MedStar, she was responsible for operations of the emergency departments at MedStar’s Georgetown University Hospital and Southern Maryland Hospital Center. She led more than 50 clinicians who cared for nearly 85,000 lives per year.
Linda is a graduate of the University of Michigan where she earned a bachelor’s degree in Neuroscience. She completed a master’s in Health Administration at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
She enjoys traveling, Crossfit, cooking, spending time with family, friends, and her German Shepherd.
Lin brings a wealth of knowledge and experience to this role, having served as President and CEO of the Visiting Nurse Association of Washington, President of MedStar Enterprises, Inc and, just prior to returning to Capital Caring Health in 2019, as Executive Director of Holy Cross Home Care and Hospice.
Lin holds a Master of Science degree in Nursing from The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC and a Bachelor of Science in Nursing from Salve Regina University in Rhode Island. She has published several prominent articles and book chapters on home care and hospice management and speaks locally and nationally on these and related topics. Lin has also served on a number of Boards such as the American Red Cross, DC Chapter, the Child Health Corporation of America and was one of the founding members of the Capital Home Health Association which serves home care and hospice organizations in Maryland and the District.
Nancy Cook, MS, is Vice President of Marketing, Communications & Public Relations at Capital Caring Health. She has more than 30 years of experience in marketing, communications, and public relations, having held leadership positions in this capacity at Georgetown University Hospital, the American College of Radiology, Magellan Health, and Providence Hospital. She oversees all Marketing, Communications and PR initiatives for the organization and works in collaboration with team leads from all departments to ensure consistency in messaging and branding.
She has received numerous awards for her work in health care marketing and communications including an Addy Award from the American Advertising Federation, a national Telly Award, and more than 25 MarCom platinum and gold awards.
Nancy has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications and Spanish Language and Literature from Syracuse University, and a Master of Science degree in Marketing Strategy and Business from Johns Hopkins University. She is a certified Project Manager and is an active participant in fundraising efforts on behalf of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, the national philanthropy of Tri Delta sorority, for which she is an officer.
Dr. Michael Byas-Smith, an expert in interventional pain and symptom management and palliative care, is now seeing patients in Washington, D.C.
With more than 25 years of experience, Dr. Byas-Smith performs interventions to relieve pain associated with cancers of the breast, lung, and abdominal organs and manages symptoms associated with neuropathy, osteoarthritis, and a wide variety of advanced illness.
Cancer Pain Specialist,Dr. Byas-Smith is medical director of the Capital Caring Health Adler Center and the Center for Pain and Palliative Care. He provides comprehensive interventional pain and palliative care consulting services in Northern Virginia and Washington D.C., for patients with advanced disease symptoms.
University of Illinois School of Medicine
Emory University School of Medicine – Anethesia
Cook County Health and Hospital Systems
National Institute of Mental Health – Pain Medicine
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas
University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center – Family Medicine
George Washington University – Hospice and Palliative Medicine
St. Christopher’s Iba mar Diop College of Medicine
University of Jos
A. T. Still University of Health Sciences Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine
Virginia Commonwealth University Health System – Family Medicine
Georgetown University Hospital – Washington Hospital Center – Hospice and Palliative Medicine
University of Virginia School of Medicine
Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center – Internal Medicine
University of Chicago Medical School – Clinical Medical Ethics
Northwestern University Medical School – Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Medical Oncology
Oklahoma State University Center for Health Sciences College of Osteopathic Medicine
Memorial Family Medicine – Family Medicine
M.D. Anderson Cancer Center – Hospice and Palliative Medicine
Guntur Medical College
St. Barnabas Hospital – Internal Medicine
Dr. Phillips lives in Silver Spring, MD with his family. They have one dog and two cats. His hobbies include drumming and ice hockey.
Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, Seton Hill Campus
East Liverpool City Hospital – Internal Medicine
George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences – Geriatrics George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences – Hospice and Palliative Medicine
Hank Willner, M.D. attended Yale University College and Medical School and completed his residency in Family Practice at the University of Virginia where he was the Chief Resident from 1977-78. He was Board Certified in Family Practice initially in 1978 and has been recertified in 1984, 1991, 1997,2004 and 2014. From 1978-80 he served in the National Health Service Corps as a family practitioner in a large rural health clinic in Buckingham County Virginia. In 1980 he founded Virginia Family Practice Associates, PC in western Fairfax where he worked in private family practice until 2001, when he decided to change careers to focus on Hospice and Palliative Medicine. He worked with Hospice of Northern Virginia, now Capital Caring, as a staff Medical Director and a Palliative Care Consultant with Capital Palliative Care Consultants from 2001-2013. He also worked as a part time Emergency Physician from 1997-2013 at Laurel Regional Hospital. He is served as the Chief Medical Director and Palliative Care Consultant at Holy Cross Home Care and Hospice; resigned 2/20/20. He now works for Capital Caring Health as a Hospice Medical Director
Dr. Willner is active in teaching medical students and House Staff from the Medical Centers in the Washington Metropolitan Area and has served as a Clinical Assistant Professor of Family Practice both at Georgetown University Medical School and the Medical College of Virginia. His special interests include the doctor-patient relationship, informed consent and Bioethics and he was the Chairman of the Ethics Committee at Fair Oaks Hospital as well as at Capital Caring, and is still active on the Ethics Committee at Holy Cross Hospital. He is the Medical Consultant to the Hospice Foundation of America. He also serves on the Maryland State End of Life Council.
His hobbies are spending time with his family and friends, exercise, reading mystery thrillers and he is an avid golfer. Dr. Willner lives in Bethesda, MD with his sons, Daniel and Jonathan.
Yale University College and Medical School
University of Virginia – Family Practice
Hershell Foster is Chief Technology Officer at Capital Caring Health. A senior-level healthcare Information Technology Executive, Hershell has a proven track record of building high-performing teams and leading healthcare organizations with development of long-range strategic plans and IT roadmaps.
His areas of expertise include: guidance for EMR selection processes, project management and implementation, developing long-range strategic plans and IT roadmaps, the design and implementation of support centers with SLAs that drive high customer satisfaction, re-engineering of complex IT processes and implementation of interoperable systems.
Hershell has served in Healthcare IT Director and CIO roles for more than 20 years. Prior to joining Capital Caring Health, he was Vice President for InfoPartners, Inc, based in Nashville, Tennessee and provided strategic and operational guidance to executive teams at numerous healthcare organizations.
Michael Toohig was stationed in Europe during World War II with the US Army. When the war ended, he took a side trip to Ireland to see his ancestral homeland and his grandmother. During the trip, he made the local paper as the first “Yank” to come to town.
That fateful trip was the start of a lifetime of traveling for Michael. It also illustrated his deep and lasting dedication to his family, and not least, his ability to make a splash in all his endeavors, from building a successful, close-knit family to a career that would include others kinds of ‘firsts’ as he worked to develop groundbreaking new technologies.
Michael grew up in a large working class family in Lawrence, Massachusetts. He was the oldest son of eight siblings. His parents Timothy Toohig and Catherine “Kitty” Toohig were Irish Catholic immigrants who met in America at an Irish dance. His father was a butcher and his mother a seamstress. The children also worked to help support the family. In the summertime, Michael harvested hay and weeded vegetable gardens at area farms. One winter, he recalls working at an ice house where he was responsible for floating the ice down from the lake to the processing house.
Michael enjoyed playing sports with the other kids in town and swimming in the river below the cliff where he lived. During the school year he studied hard. Only a few people from town went to college at the time, but Michael was one of the few who got a scholarship to go to Boston College when he was 17.
After a year in college, Michael joined the Army and fought in World War II. He remained in Europe long enough to stop the Germans from coming through the Alps at the St. Bernard Pass, liberate concentration camps and celebrate with thousands of people in Augsbourg as the American Army tanks rolled in when the war ended. To this day he has two pieces of Lira he took as a souvenir from a bank that he helped to liberate from German occupation.
Michael treasured the trip to Ireland he took after the war because he could see where his parents had grown up. He met his 90-year old paternal grandmother and his maternal grandfather. His grandmother was so excited she hitched up the horse to a jaunting cart and headed off to church with herself and Michael in the back.
Back at home, Michael returned to Boston College and graduated with a degree in Physics. After hitchhiking around the country and finding no jobs, he took advantage of the GI Bill to go on and earn a Master’s degree. When he finished, he went to work at Firestone where he helped design a recoilless rifle that was later used by militaries around the world, including the U.S. military. He also ran a test site at Lake Erie. When the company needed someone to travel around the country, they chose Michael, the resident bachelor, to go.
Within a few years, Michael met his future wife Barbara while mingling at a Catholic social for young people in Fort Wayne, Indiana. They dated for three years before they got married. They went on to have five children: Aimee, Michele, Terrance, Timothy, and Delsina. The family lived in Fort Wayne and then later moved to Roanoke, Virginia.
Family has always been at the core of Michael’s life. “My dreams have been to have a good job, a professional job, to support myself and the family.”
And he succeeded. After working at Firestone, Michael transitioned to a company working in the burgeoning fiber optics industry. There, he had a chance to work with Philo Farnsworth, who created the prototype of the first all-electric television. As a director of research, he oversaw a team that developed night vision goggles, which were also adopted by the military, and night vision telescopes. He became a leader in this technology and the company, and he would go on to be the first president of the Night Vision Goggles Association.
He moved to another division of the company eventually, where he worked closely with Nobel Prize winner Charles Kao, who invented and developed fiber optics. By then, he was focused on international sales. He built sales networks in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Philippines, and many other places.
After the kids were grown, Barbara often traveled with him. Sometimes the whole family would travel together. They especially enjoyed trips to Mexico and the beaches on the West Coast, which Michael describes as the most beautiful in the world.
Closer to home, the family also enjoyed spending time at their historical log cabin at Smith Mountain Lake which Michael fixed up. He built a wrap around porch perfect for stargazing. He also loved tending his garden there.
Michael is proud of the family he has raised. He is especially proud to have sent all five children to college. And now that his children have gone on to lead successful lives, he is proud that “the family is still united.” He still talks to his four living sisters every Thursday. His big family has only grown as it now includes 11 grandchildren and about 40 nieces and nephews, and Michael is glad that his five children call often or live close by.
Marrygold Ugorji was on leave from her job this spring with a sprained ankle when coronavirus case numbers began to spike in the Washington DC area. She watched the death toll rising on the news and worried about her impending return to work.
As a certified nursing assistant for Capital Caring Health, the region’s largest non-profit provider of elder health, advanced illness, hospice, and at-home care services, Marrygold is one of many frontline care workers whose jobs are more essential—and more dangerous—than ever as they risk exposing themselves and their families to coronavirus while caring for the most vulnerable patients often until the last breath, holding hands and comforting when family can’t.
“What we are going through now is bad and it’s scary,” says Marrygold, a mother of four grown children with 20 years of experience as a nursing assistant.
In the beginning she worried that she would not have the personal protective equipment she needed. But by the time she was back on the schedule in May, the trunk of her car was stocked with N95 face masks, a face shield and a “little pharmacy” of disinfectants.
She also wanted to feel supported in a broader way. “You don’t ever want to get the feeling that, ‘Okay, you knew you signed up for this: just go out and get the job done,’” she says of a job where just okay is never enough for Marrygold.
Fortunately, the morning that she finally got the call to visit her first Covid 19 patient, a scheduler on the other end of the line—someone she had never met in person—put her at ease. She assured Marrygold that another certified nursing assistant would also be there, and that she was part of a team. “She was like a friend,” Marrygold says.
So, she drove to the skilled nursing facility and steeled her courage in the car. She put on her foot coverings, an N95 mask and a surgical mask.
Inside the building, in a “clean room,” she met her colleague and they helped each other with the rest of their protective equipment: a full gown, a head covering and a face shield. With both masks and the shield, it was hard to breathe, she says, but she continued on.
“I went in with a positive mindset,” she says, “and we gave excellent care.”
She left the protective gowns in the “dirty room” on her way out of the facility that day and drove home. Then she took a hot shower and washed her hair before facing her husband and daughter.
Being a caregiver has always come naturally to Marrygold. She grew up with a large extended family in the U.S. Virgin Islands and watched her aunt repeatedly step in and care for family members when they became ill or needed help.
When she was 16, she moved to New Jersey to attend a vocational school and study culinary arts. She got a job working in the kitchen of a nursing home. But she soon realized that instead of over the stove, she wanted to be in the dining room helping the elderly residents. So, she trained to become a certified nursing assistant.
She spent the next decade working in the geriatric unit of a New Jersey State psychiatric hospital. In 2010, love brought her to Northern Virginia. She married her soul mate, a spiritual and thoughtful man from Nigeria, and they joined their lives.
She started working in an assisted living community, where she encountered hospice care services more often. She recalls building relationships with residents and then losing them.
There was one man who was often angry with his caregivers, but who would calm down with Marrygold. During his last days, she would visit him and sit by his bedside.
“I remember holding his hand and giving him that sense of comfort and telling him it’s okay,” she says. “It was in that moment that I felt: This is where I need to be.”
That was her gift to him—and his parting gift to her. Not long after, she went to work for Capital Caring, focusing her energies on people at the end of their lives.
The care plan she follows for each patient is only part of the care she provides, she says. She offers comfort in the form of a light massage or a listening ear or some calming music. She likes to sing to her patients, Caribbean songs she grew up with or inspirational music.
“My husband always tells me this kind of work is very easy for me,” she says. “I am very humble, and I am someone who shows empathy to others.”
Marrygold describes another patient who stands out in her memory. She went to say goodbye to one afternoon, not knowing if she would still be there the next time she came to work. The woman leaned in and whispered, “I love you.”
Love, too, is part of the job, Marrygold says.
“It’s okay to love your patients,” she says, especially in these troubled times. “God loves all of us. Why can’t we love each other?”
Everyone has a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, Marrygold says, and it’s a privilege to be with them for the final chapter.
“I am always grateful that they trust me to be part of the end of their story,” she says.
Sherri Parker started her career as a social worker nearly 30 years ago working with hospice patients. Now she is leading an effort to bring care into the home much earlier for older adults who have an advanced illness or disability.
Primary Care At Home is a new program from Capital Caring Health, the largest non-profit provider of elder health, chronic illness, hospice, and at-home care services for the Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. area.
“A lot of patients have difficulty getting to the doctor, and now with Covid-19, it is even harder to get to the doctor,” she says. So this old fashioned house call program, as she calls it, brings home-based medical care, including visits from a doctor, a nurse practitioner and a social worker who all specialize in geriatrics. The team can provide in-home blood work or other diagnostic tests when needed. The goal is help people stay out of the emergency room or hospital and to age in place safely by addressing health concerns early. “With our help, these patients can still get outstanding care,” she says.
Sherri works with patients and families to access community resources and she runs a biweekly caregiver support group.
When Sherri started college, she knew that she wanted to help people. She took classes in education and social work and in the end she “fell in love with social work.”
During one of her social work classes, she received a field assignment in the oncology wing of a hospital. She found the experience very gratifying. Since then she has worked in home-based hospice and home health, in grief and bereavement counseling, and in acute care and long-term care settings. She has been at Capital Caring for 23 years.
She helps people think through what matters most to them and how they want to live in their final years. Sherri also enjoys mentoring graduate students and inspiring the next generation of social workers. “I love what I do so much that I think it filters over to them and they decide to stay,” she says.
The novel coronavirus pandemic has made in-home care more challenging, but the Primary Care At Home team is still working to help older adults who need services.
“We are not letting Covid-19 stop us,” she says.
Sherri and the rest of the team are getting creative to make sure patients can access the care they need. In some cases, the team sends smartphones to patients who don’t have them so they can connect through Zoom. And they still visit patients and their families in person when necessary. She visits one patient at home who is blind, for example, and also calls her to check in by phone.
“We use PPE and we can stay safe,” she says.
After months of quarantining, in-person home visits can be really energizing, she says. Sherri recalls the joy she felt after visiting with a patient who lives alone and struggles with technology. It was a bittersweet farewell.
Before Covid-19, she would sometimes hug her patients goodbye, she says. Now she can’t do that. Instead, when she went outside the door, she removed her face shield and mask, so her patient could see her face and the emotion in her smile and tried to connect with her through the window. “With technology we can do a lot, but nothing can replace a hug.”
At home, she recharges with gardening. She took a recent trip with her husband to the beach, and she loves spending time with her family. Sherri is excited for the future and doesn’t see herself stopping this work anytime soon.
“Some people go to a job and come home but this isn’t that. It is more like I can’t imagine doing anything else that would bring me this much fulfillment. I feel like I make a difference everyday,” she says.
Throughout her more than 20-year career as a hospice care nurse, Colleen Carberry has never appreciated the healing power of a smile—or a touch—more than she does now.
In the midst of a pandemic, she still provides in-person care for patients approaching end of life and comforts their families. But she can no longer hold their hands or give them a hug. And with a mask covering her face during visits, she can no longer even share a smile.
Colleen started her nursing career 27 years ago. At the time, she was a recent college graduate working at a surf shop in Virginia Beach when one of her coworkers brought in a brochure for nursing school orientation. Colleen agreed to attend the orientation and found a lasting fit.
She was drawn to hospice care early on because of the intimacy of the work, she says. After working as a nurse care manager and educating doctors, nursing homes, and hospitals about hospice care, she wanted to focus on direct patient interactions and she took a job at Capital Caring Health, the largest non-profit provider of elder health, advanced illness, hospice, and at-home care services for the Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. area.
“There is something beautiful about holding someone’s hand as they take their last breath,” Colleen says. “It moves me to see my patients smile and relax as they cross that threshold and are finally comfortable again.”
The novel coronavirus has made it more difficult to share in those intimate moments. Physical distancing protocols are taking a toll on her patients and their families.
In assisted living, she sees family members come to the window of the facility in order to “hold hands” with their loved ones, some of whom don’t understand why they cannot be hugged in person.
The changes are especially difficult for patients with dementia, who rely more on facial recognition and facial cues for connection. “The masks may seem scary to them,” she says. “They are confused.”
Without the ability to smile or hold hands, she is spending more time in conversation with patients and families and trying to show her empathy through active listening.
“I believe that the job of a nurse is to comfort and give peace,” she says.
That affects what she sees as a central part of her work. “I love caring for my patients and their families,” Colleen says. “I like to love on their mind, body, and spirit.”
Carberry is one of thousands of frontline care workers who are taking risks each day to attend to the needs of their patients. In the first few months of the pandemic, she did not have any covid-positive patients, but she saw first-hand how the threat of the virus is dramatically transforming care for millions of older adults even through their final days.
Paulette Davidson’s first job as a healthcare chaplain was at the top trauma hospital in Washington D.C. When patients were brought in from car accidents or with gunshot wounds or third-degree burns, she was there. “I was that silent voice praying by the bedside while doctors are working to save their lives,” she says.
And when family members burst in — screaming, in shock, terrified — she was there to scream with them or hold their hands or calm them down so they could listen to the doctors.
In 2019, she accepted the job at Capital Caring, the largest non-profit provider of elder health, advanced illness, hospice, and at-home care services for the Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C. area. She says she wanted to view death and grief from a different perspective — beyond that time of intense stress and loss. She wanted to help families the next day and the day after that as they came to terms with death.
“I have seen it from the hospital,” she says. “I wanted to see it from the home.”
Paulette grew up a “preachers’ kid” in Pittsburgh, the youngest of four children. Both her parents are pastors and her father has been working as a chaplain for the last 25 years at a VA hospital.
She studied business in college initially, then switched her major to social work. While in school she decided to enlist in the Army. At the time she says, “I couldn’t do a push up to save my life.” But she says the experience was transformative and taught her purpose and discipline. When she went back to finish her degree, she decided to join ROTC to become a leader in the Army. She decided to pursue military chaplaincy as a way help people.
She became pregnant in her last year of college. She chose an internship in a high school working with teen moms and dads. “I was 23 years old, becoming a new mom, and these were 16-year olds with young children. I was teaching them about education, and they were teaching me about parenting,” she says.
She has carried that teaching and learning philosophy with her into her career. In support groups, she leads by helping people learn from each other and find strength from within, she says.
When she graduated from college, she commissioned as an officer in 2010 and worked in the reserves while she enrolled at Howard University School of Divinity to pursue her Master’s degree.
Her daughter was only 2 yrs old, and she was a single mom, living in a new city far from home. She worked hard and found success. After three years, she graduated and was ordained as an Elder in the Pentecostal church, though she emphasizes that chaplains do not discriminate, regardless if you are “Methodist or Buddhist or Wicken or Spiritual or not.”
Rather than going active duty with the military, as she had planned, she retired from the Army in October 2015 and applied for a clinical pastoral education residency with Medstar Washington Hospital Center so she could work in healthcare settings. “I fell in love with the work,” she says.
Now, as a hospice and palliative care chaplain, her job is to address the emotional, psychological and spiritual needs of patients and families. She typically would visit a roster of patients in different assisted living communities, but the novel coronavirus pandemic has changed the daily rhythm of her job and the needs she is trying to meet.
Now she spends most of her time on the phone – often with family members who are worried about loved ones they can no longer see. She encourages new ways to connect with their loved ones, whether through technology or care packages or regular visits to the window to say hello.
And she helps them identify meaningful ways to honor their loved one when they die, as most in-person memorial services have been put on hold. “If they liked to wear purple, wear purple. Choose a date on the calendar to remember them and light a purple candle. Their spirit/legacy is going to live on in you if you have a funeral or not,” she says.
She also runs a monthly bereavement support group. In her work, she says, she tries to meet people where they are. From a spiritual standpoint, she asks herself, “what is God trying to say to me and to this person in this moment,” she says.
She also helps people identify the things they are grateful about at difficult time – Grateful for zoom calls. Grateful for work. Grateful that their loved one is free from physical pain and the fear of an ongoing pandemic.
“Even when we are discouraged, the sun still shines. The moon still rises. The world is still evolving,” she says.
Helping others deal with grief and loss in so-called “normal” times is a challenge for healthcare workers. That challenge is often compounded when a child is lost, or a young person faces the death of a family member. But facing those challenges in a pandemic adds another layer of complexity to the task. To help meet those challenges, Capital Caring is tapping the talents of Donna Smith, a veteran counselor who led The Children’s Room, a groundbreaking non-profit organization designed to help grieving children and families. Smith has been working since April at Capital Caring Health, the largest non-profit provider of elder health, advanced illness, hospice, and at-home care services for the Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. area.
Donna came to her role as a counselor after a midlife career change. At 35 she lost her mother, then five years later, her father died suddenly. After some introspection, Smith decided to leave her career in business. Armed with a degree in accounting, she had worked in small businesses in a variety of roles, but had found herself gravitating away from the numbers side of the business to the personal, working in human resources. Following her father’s death, she reevaluated her working life and decided to pursue a job totally focused on helping people.
She decided to become a counselor, and she gravitated to helping families cope with loss. Her path led her to a part-time job at Children’s Room, the Arlington, Mass. based non-profit that provides grief support services for families and children up to age 19. The project had begun in 1993 as a single room within a hospice care facility set aside for the needs of children either housed in hospice care or visiting family members there. Smith went on to develop her part-time job into a full-fledged role as program director, serving in that role from 2005 to 2010, and then took over as executive director of the non-profit. When she stepped down in 2017, the Children’s Room team hailed her service and her leadership. She was credited with developing programs like Parenting While Grieving and the Teen Program during her tenure.
In March, 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic began to take hold, Capital Caring hired Smith to develop programs to help children deal with the crisis. The children’s program was set up within Capital Caring’s hospice care program where a teamwork structure is well matched to the new task, Smith says.
Smith is drawing on her Children’s Room experiences in her new role as a grief counselor. A key hallmark of the work at Children’s Room was flexibility, the need to adapt to each child’s specific needs, and she is applying that in her new mission. For example, Smith cited the case of a mother and her two children, a 10-year-old son and eight-year old daughter who had been home when their father suffered a fatal heart attack. The family came to Children’s Room for support, but the daughter felt like she bonded more with adults rather than a children’s group. So after becoming a familiar face in the Children’s Room community, she was allowed to join a teen group with older children who had come to know her. One of the older members of the group was a Harvard student whose parent had been killed in Oregon. They bonded and together created a theater piece, a project that helped them both. The little girl would go on to form a performance group as a teenager, and later she became an art student. That bonding at Children’s Room “had an enormous impact on her,” Smith says. It shows the “difference you can make if you are grounded in the community, and not giving time limited services.”
As the Capital Caring hospice staff members find themselves working with more children who are losing family members to the virus, the challenges are mounting. Creating community has been difficult in the current situation, given social distancing and the necessity of communicating virtually. The program also has developed family circle times, bringing multiple families together, and setting up break out rooms with activities for children. To encourage communication about their feelings, Smith says the program has been using what she calls “question balls” – beach balls for each family labelled with fun questions about the person they have lost. “Nobody’s ever asked these questions,” Smith says, “(its’) amazing the discussion that comes after them.”
One thing Smith has learned in her work, a lesson that has been underlined during the pandemic, is that children know how to work through grief, and often can talk more honestly about it than adults who sometimes are hampered by their reluctance to discuss their loss. The overwhelming burden of dealing with covid has made many people not wanting to think about the potential loss and that leads to avoidance. We are “so death avoidant in this culture,” Smith says. But for Smith and her fellow hospice workers they are “reminded every day that life is short,” and that spurs them to help families cope with the crisis.
“The work that I do is so life affirming,” Smith says, adding that she feels “privileged and inspired to witness kids who went through something really, really hard and went out the other side even stronger.”
In her personal life, she draws comfort and support from her own two adult children and three grandchildren. When not at work, she spends a lot of time with her family, and as an “outdoorsy person” recharges by walking, running and hiking. An avowed explorer of new things, she also enjoys reading and cooking. But it is the teamwork and the resiliency of children that she finds in her work that also bring her joy.[/vc_column_text][vc_button border_width=”0″ link=”url:https%3A%2F%2Fapp.memorywell.com%2Fstory%2F722%2Fmemorywell%2Fpdf” icon=”fa fa-file-pdf-o”]PDF[/vc_button][/vc_column][/vc_row]
Throughout her career, Tabitha has and continues to seek to accompany others in the promotion of wellness and alleviation of suffering. She first developed an interest in Hospice care during her undergraduate studies and returned to the field following various positions in primary care, community health, and long term care settings. Her practice, whole-person approach, and care for social justice have been deeply influenced by her time working at Joseph’s House in Washington, DC and through the Metta Institute’s End of Life Practitioner Program. Tabitha and her husband, Keith, live in Prince George’s County, Maryland, where they are active members of Hyattsville Mennonite Church. They enjoy walks in nature and spending time with their extended families.
James Madison University Master of Science in Nursing – Family Nurse Practitioner Eastern Mennonite University – Bachelor of Science in Nursing
Extensive background in critical care, advanced heart failure, and multi-organ transplantation. Practiced in Baltimore, MD, San Diego, CA, Los Angeles, CA, Washington, DC, and now Arlington, VA. When I’m not working, I love hiking, spending time with my nieces and my dog, Fred.
University of Maryland – Master’s in Adult-Gerontology Acute Care Nurse Practitioner Program University of Maryland Medical Center – Clinical Rotations in Acute Pain Management, Trauma Critical Care, Neurosurgery Critical Care The Johns Hopkins Hospital – Clinical Rotation in Solid Organ Transplantation
Dr. Heidi Young has more than a decade of experience as a hospice and palliative care physician. After earning a bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she attended Georgetown University School of Medicine.
She completed an internal medicine residency at the University of Chicago followed by a chief resident year at MacNeal Hospital in Chicago. She returned to Washington, D.C., in 2010 and completed fellowship in Hospice and Palliative Medicine through the National Institute of Health and Capital Caring in 2011. Prior to joining Capital Caring, she served as a general internist and palliative medicine consultant at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital as well as the Chief of Palliative Medicine at MedStar Georgetown for five years.
She currently serves as an Associate Professor with Georgetown University School of Medicine. Dr. Young is based in Arlington, Virginia.
Caitlin Geary, MS, FNP-C, is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with more than seven years of direct patient care experience. Prior to joining Capital Caring Health, she worked at The George Washington University Hospital in the Intensive Care Unit.
She earned a master’s degree in Nursing from Georgetown University. She also holds a bachelor’s degree in Nursing and bachelor’s degree in Journalism from the University of Central Florida.
Her hobbies include running, hiking, traveling, and spending time with her husband and cat.
Sayaka Hanada, MSN, FNP-C is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with more than five years of experience in direct patient care. Prior to joining Capital Caring Health, she worked at George Washington University Hospital in the Intensive Care Unit. Sayaka also served as a clinical instructor adjunct professor at the George Washington University’s School of Nursing.
She earned a master’s degree in Nursing from George Washington University. Sayaka also holds a bachelor’s degree Brain and Cognitive Sciences from Rochester University, and she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in Nursing from George Washington University.
Her hobbies include cooking/baking, yoga, traveling, and taking care of her dog, Kai.
Sherri Parker, LCSW, an experienced clinician with Capital Caring Health for 20-plus years has served in a variety of social work roles including home care, long-term care and grief support.
In her most recent role, she was the Lead Social worker at the Capital Caring Halquist Memorial Inpatient Center, a 15-bed acute care hospice unit. In this role, Sherri provided emotional support and counseling for individuals, couples, and families coping with challenges adjusting to serious illness, addressing increased caregiving needs and developing discharge plans. Sherri guided patients and families in accessing community resources and navigating insurance issues.
Sherri earned a bachelor’s and master’s degree in Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University. She is a licensed clinical social worker and member of NASW, who provides field instruction to graduate-level social work students at local universities, and clinical supervision to colleagues pursuing clinical licensure.
In 2018, she was presented the Employee of the Year Award from the Healthcare Council of the National Capital Area.
Sherri’s hobbies include spending time with her family and friends (including dogs), cooking, gardening and enjoying vacation time at the beach.
Deanna Cho is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a Certificate in Advanced Clinical Dementia Practice.
She earned a master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Michigan School of Social Work. Prior to joining Capital Caring Health, she was a geriatric medical social worker for the MedStar House Call Program. She supported elderly patients and their caregivers through aging and health-related transitions, facilitated an over-the-phone discussion group for home-limited elders, and provided crisis intervention.
She has served as a faculty member for the Home Centered Care Institute, educating providers interested in starting home-based primary care practices. She also instructed undergraduate students on the topic of geriatric social work and cultural competency. She was a co-contributor for the 2018 Best Research Poster of the Year in at the American Academy of Homecare Medicine, which explored the role of Home-Based Primary Care Social Workers.
Deanna enjoys rock climbing, reading, culinary experiences and traveling.
Mandy Brouillard earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Science from Georgetown University. After graduating from Georgetown, she spent a year volunteering full-time with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she served patients as a Clinic Coordinator at Casa de Salud, a family medical clinic. After completion of her service year, Mandy returned to the Washington D.C. area and worked as a Case Manager at One Care DC, a core service agency providing mental health rehabilitation services to DC residents.
Mandy holds a certification in Harm Reduction from New Mexico’s Department of Health, and she is proficient in Spanish.
In her spare time, Mandy enjoys exploring the outdoors, playing any and all sports, and baking. She loves these activities even more when she is joined by her family, friends, or six month old puppy.
Virginia Commonwealth University School of Medicine
Eastern Virginia Graduate School of Medicine – Emergency Medicine
Medical Director with more than 10 years experience providing hospice and palliative care and 14 years practicing Family Medicine. Firm advocate for providing comfort and dignity to patients and families facing life-limiting illnesses, and promoting a positive philosophy of hospice care to the community.
University of the East Ramon Magsaysay Memorial Medical Center
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center – Family Medicine
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center
St. George’s University School of Medicine
Allegheny General Hospital – Internal Medicine
St. John’s Episcopal Hospital – Internal Medicine
Dr. Irwin has been a hospice medical director with Capital Caring since 2004 and has also maintained a family medicine practice during that time. He appreciates the breadth of experience that includes helping people through the entire range of life, including newborns, children, adolescents, adults and older generations. He has been honored several times to receive the Northern Virginia Magazine Top Doctor award, including in 2020 and 2021.
George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences
Howard University School of Medicine – Family Practice
Howard University Hospital – Family Practice
David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA
Northridge Family Practice Residency – Family Medicine
Medstar Washington Hospital Center – Palliative Medicine
Georgetown University School of Medicine
Loyola University Medical Center – Internal Medicine
University of Pittsburgh Medical Center – Hospice and Palliative Medicine
Edward Via Virginia College of Osteopathic Medicine
ETSU Quillen College of Medicine – Internal Medicine
University of Virginia – Nephrology
University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey School of Osteopathic Medicine
Kennedy Memorial Hospitals University Medical Center – Family Practice
Kennedy Memorial Hospitals University Medical Center – Rotating Internship
Eastern Virginia Medical School of the Medical College of Hampton Roads
Riverside Family Practice – Family Practice
Meharry Medical College – Internal Medicine
Albany Medical College
Albany Medical Center – Diagnostic Radiology
Dr. Silao-Solomon has been the hospice medical director in Capital Caring Health’s Loudoun community since 2010. She is also currently the hospice medical director in the Winchester region. She is certified in both Family Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine. Her main interests include management of cancer related symptoms, end of life communication, and integrative approaches in pain management to help maximize patients’ comfort at the advanced stage of their disease.
University of the East
Capital Hospice – National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Boston University School of Medicine
St. Joseph Mercy Hospital – Internal Medicine
University of Michigan – Geriatric Medicine, Midwest Palliative & Hospice CareCenter – Hospice and Palliative Medicine
University of Chicago Medical Center – Internal Medicine
Carolyn Richar has 30-plus years of nursing experience, certified hospice and palliative care nurse. Carolyn developed a deep love for hospice as a chaplain volunteer for Hospice of Northern Virginia (now Capital Caring) from 1988 to 1990. She returned in 2000 to work as a chaplain for the Prince William and Loudoun regions and then moved into the general manager position for the Prince William region in 2005. Carolyn has served as executive director for the Arlington region, including the Capital Caring Halquist Inpatient Center since 2009. She has also served in various roles including as a U.S. Senate Staff aide on health care issues and as a nursing home administrator.
Susan Boris, RN, BSN, has 30-plus years of nursing and health care leadership experience. Susan has served in the executive director role for Capital Caring Health offices in Loudoun and western Fairfax counties and she was also the executive director for Prince William and Fauquier counties from 2014 to 2016. Susan has also worked as clinical operations manager, clinical supervisor and RN case manager during her time with Capital Caring Health.
Susan has a Bachelor’s of Science in Nursing and more than 30 years of nursing and leadership experience in the adult and pediatric clinical settings with a focus on end-of-life, hospice and palliative care.
Keith Everett, MBA, MHA, ACHE, is the Chief Officer for Performance, Compliance, and Cultural Operations at Capital Caring Health. He holds Master of Science in Business and Healthcare Administration from South University. Keith is certified in Lean Six Sigma and Public Health Quality and he serves on the Board of Examiners for the 2020 Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award. The board is composed of more than 300 leading experts competitively selected from industry, professional, trade, education, health care, and nonprofit (including government) organizations from across the United States.
Prior to joining Capital Caring Health, Keith served as Vice President of Quality and Systems Improvement for the American Heart Association, Mid Atlantic Affiliate. During his time with the AHA, he managed the regional operations and implementation of the association’s quality agenda to support the achievement of its Strategic Plan for 350+ hospitals from South Carolina to Maryland. Keith is a member of several organizations including: the American College of Healthcare Executives, National Association for Healthcare Quality, American Society of Quality and the American Heart Association.
Cameron Muir, M.D., FAAHPM, is Capital Caring Health’s Chief Innovation Officer. In this role, Dr. Muir is responsible for identifying and implementing new business initiatives based on emerging innovative models designed to care for people with advanced illness. Prior to his work with Capital Caring Health, Dr. Muir was Medical Director of the Palliative Care and Home Hospice Program of Northwestern Memorial Hospital. He served as the Director of the Palliative Care Program of the Northwestern University Medical School. Dr. Muir is Board-Certified in Hospice and Palliative Medicine and Internal Medicine. He received his medical degree from the University of Virginia School of Medicine, completed his residency in internal medicine at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, and earned fellowships in bioethics at the University of Chicago Medical Center and in Hospice and Palliative Medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Vivian Hsia-Davis, CHHR, is Chief People Officer at Capital Caring Health. Vivian’s background prior to joining Capital Caring in January 2018, includes extensive engagement in recruitment and retention, employee relations, employee communications, talent management, compensation, benefits, occupational health and wellness, and organizational development. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a Masters Degree in General Administration. She also holds a certification in Healthcare Human Resources (CHHR).
In her role as Chief People Officer, Vivian has responsibility for Human Resources and Education, which includes talent acquisition, management and retention, compensation and benefits, regulatory compliance, policy development and staff development, training and education.
David Schwind serves as Chief Financial Officer for Capital Caring Health. David joined Capital Caring Health in 2005 and has 25-plus years of experience in the healthcare. Prior to joining Capital Caring Health, he served as the Senior Vice President for Reimbursement and Regulatory Affairs of an organization providing ancillary support services to long-term care facilities throughout the United States. He has held management positions in several of the largest teaching hospitals on the East Coast. David is an advanced member of the Healthcare Financial Management Association and is a past president of their Washington, D.C. Chapter. He is a graduate of the University of Maryland.
Eric De Jonge, M.D., is one of the nation’s most renowned physicians specializing in geriatrics. As Chief of Geriatrics at Capital Caring Health, he is leading efforts to build an array of health services for elders with advanced illness, including Primary Care at Home (PHC), Social Services, and other needed senior health services.
Dr. De Jonge served as President of the American Academy of Home Care Medicine from 2017 to 2019. He also served as Executive Director of the MedStar House Call Program and Director of Geriatrics at MedStar Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C.
He was named National House Call Physician of the Year by the AAHCM in 2003. In 2007, Dr. De Jonge helped develop and advocate for a Medicare reform law called Independence at Home (IAH) to advance the field of home care medicine and reduce Medicare costs. The IAH demonstration began in 2012 and Dr. De Jonge directed a successful IAH site at MedStar Health for seven years.
A native of Chicago, Dr. De Jonge graduated with honors from Stanford University and from the Yale School of Medicine. He trained in primary care internal medicine at Johns Hopkins Bayview and completed fellowships in health policy at Georgetown and Geriatrics at Johns Hopkins. He is on the teaching faculty at Georgetown School of Medicine and Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Yale University School of Medicine
University of Washington, Seattle – Primary Care Internal Medicine
Johns Hopkins Bayview – Primary care Internal Medicine
Johns Hopkins Bayview – Geriatrics Georgetown University School of Medicine – Health Policy
Kimberly Grove is the Chief of Staff for Capital Caring Health. In this role, she works with the CEO and provides direct executive support, acts as a liaison, assists with managing strategic initiatives and oversees executive administrative operations.
Kimberly has 20-plus years of experience in healthcare and human resource management. She joined Capital Caring Health in October 2016 as a Recruitment Manager, and in March 2018, she was promoted to Director of Human Resources.
While serving as Director of Human Resources, Kimberly successfully led the hiring and recruitment team and worked to build relationships to expand the pipeline of job candidates to fit critical roles within the organization.
Lewis University, Romeoville, IL – BSN University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, CO – MSN
St. Matthew’s University
Carilion Clinic – Family Medicine
Carilion Clinic VTC – Hospice and Palliative Medicine
Dr. Anwar attended the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic, after which he went on to complete a residency in Internal Medicine in Blacksburg, VA at HCA LewisGale Montgomery Hospital. During his final year of residency, he served as Chief Resident. Dr. Anwar joins Capital Caring Health after completing his fellowship in Hospice and Palliative Medicine at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital.
In his spare time, he enjoys exercise, cooking, and spending time with his family.
Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine
HCA LewisGale Montgomery Hospital
HCA LewisGale Montgomery Hospital – Internal Medicine
OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital – Hospice and Palliative Medicine
Gondar College of Medicine
Addis Ababa University Medical Facility – Pathology and Lab Medicine, Prince George’s Hospital Center – Internal Medicine
Matthew Kestenbaum, M.D. is Chief Medical Officer. Dr. Kestenbaum has been with Capital Caring Health since 2006 and is well known in the industry as an expert in hospice and palliative care. Among his many accomplishments and successes include his leadership with the Virginia POST (Physician Orders for Scope of Treatment) and work with CMS. Prior to joining Capital Caring, Dr. Kestenbaum served as hospice medical director for 10-plus years.
UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
Northwestern University Medical School – Internal Medicine
Neil Parker’s long-lasting marriage and four beautiful children almost did not happen. He cancelled his engagement mere weeks before his wedding day more than a half century ago, wracked with a severe case of cold feet.
But a few months separated from young Frances Peltzman humbled him, and by the spring he was calling on her again. “I found out I really loved her,” he says of their time apart.
Fortunately for him, she agreed to take him back, and their elopement in the summer of 1965 opened the door to all the good things that followed.
Neil was born to Sydney and Rose Parker on September 14,1942 in Trenton, New Jersey. The couple went to the same high school and met on the bus to school.
They divorced when Neil was 3. His father owned a printing company and his mother worked for a children’s clothing store and later as a secretary at De Laval turbine company. She and her boss Fred fell in love, a romance that necessitated a change in jobs for her — she became a telephone operator — and led to their marriage. The family bought a house in Yardley, PA.
Growing up, Neil loved baseball and summer trips to Atlantic City with his grandmother.
Neil’s father was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when Neil was young. Sydney Parker lived with his parents after he got sick, and Neil recalls visits to their house on weekends. Sometimes his father would take him bowling. “He kept score and I bowled,” he recalls, noting his father had limited mobility.
Neil graduated from Pennsbury high school in Yardley and went on to college at Penn State. He played minor league football and earned his degree in rehabilitation education. He was interested in working with people with disabilities like his father.
During his senior year, Neil met Fran on a blind date. She was working at the New Jersey Department of Health at the time. They got engaged soon after Neil graduated from college and planned a big family wedding. But weeks before their big day, Neil cancelled the wedding.
Fran was devastated. She quit her job and moved to New York City to start fresh. Neil joined the National Guard, training at Fort Dix in Trenton. But several months later his heart pulled him back and he went to find her again. They went to the World’s Fair on a date in the spring of 1965. He asked her to marry him again that weekend. She said no. With some coaxing from her best friend, Fran saw him again, and they agreed to get married.
Their wedding almost did not happen a second time. They found a justice of the peace to marry them, but the judge rejected Fran’s official documentation, a birth certificate that had been doctored to help her get into a club when she was 17. One reissued official birth certificate later, they drove to Maryland and tied the knot on July 31, 1965.
“Nobody knew about it but us,” Fran says. “I was shaking. He was shaking.”
The only thing scarier was telling their parents. “We had to go face the music,” says Neil. He knew he had to earn back the trust of Fran’s parents. And he did.
“I think it was two years before my father said, ‘Neil, you are good man,’” Fran says.
The couple moved to Philadelphia and Neil got a job as a case worker. He made home visits to determine eligibility for public assistance. On weekends he served in the National Guard. On August 1966, their daughter Sherri Lynn was born. A year later, Scott David was born.
Neil went back to school in the evenings and got his Masters degree in Counseling and Guidance at Temple University. He got a job in Washington DC and the family moved to Virginia when Sherri was five years old and Scott was four years old.
He worked at the College Board, where he tested and counseled teenagers for college readiness. After two years, he was hired by DC government, where he worked with minority youth, including those who were disabled or who had been incarcerated, to help them find jobs. He later became a program analyst.
Fran and Neil had two more children, Frank Paul in 1972 and Michael Alan in 1975. They bought a house in Vienna when Frank was born. Neil coached Little League on the weekends. And in the summers he took his kids to the same stretch of beach in Atlantic City that he used to go to as a child.
He retired after 23 years with the DC government. He missed working with youth, though, and for several years he was a substitute teacher in the Fairfax County schools.
The children loved him, Fran recalls, and delighted in his stories – like the time he and Fran accidentally brought a gecco home in their suitcase from a vacation in Costa Rica. They found it two days later in a roll top desk and set it free in a park, where the neighborhood kids would go and look for it.
As their children grew up and got married, the Parker family became increasingly international. Neil and Fran welcomed a daughter-in-law from Mexico, another from Poland, and a third with Japanese ancestry who was born and raised in Lima, Peru.
The extended family lives close to each other and they pitch in to help one another. Neil’s mother lived with him and Fran for ten years before she died, and they helped her through cancer treatment. Then in 2016, they moved into Sherri’s home, the same year Neil was diagnosed with Parkinson’s.
Now his grandchildren go for walks with him and they are very happy to be quarantining together. Neil still loves sports and rooting for the Nationals and the former Washington Redskins.
When Sulaiman Bangura came to America from Sierra Leone 17 years ago at the age of 23, he was seeking a better life. He found it not only in the United States, but also through a rewarding career in nursing.
Now as an RN for at-home hospice services with Capital Caring Health, the largest non-profit provider of elder health, advanced illness, hospice, and at-home care services for the Maryland, Virginia, and Washington D.C. area, Bangura looks forward to seeing his patients every day.
“When I first got to the United States, someone told me that I should become a certified nursing assistant,” say Bangura. “They said it was a field where you can always get a job.”
But it soon became more than a job to Bangura; it was a calling. He progressed from working as a CNA at a nursing home to becoming a Licensed Practical Nurse. He then trained to become a Registered Nurse and ultimately got his Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree.
He has worked at Capital Caring for the past 13 years, where he has become passionate about helping people at the end of life. “I fell in love with the job,” Bangura says. “Every patient is unique. You never know who you’ll meet with each admission.”
The onset of the novel coronavirus pandemic dramatically changed his work. Suddenly he had to connect with patients through virtual telehealth visits.
Bangura says that was really hard. “Part of our job is to make patients feel like they aren’t alone, like someone is there to listen,” he says.
Since the hospice team has been able to make home visits again, they have been careful to take precautions for both the patients and themselves. They pre-screen patients, as well as any family member or caretaker who’ll be present, to check for common symptoms of the virus before each visit.
Bangura goes home each night to his wife, three children and both his mother and mother-in-law, and so he worries about getting the virus or bringing it home. But he says everyone is very mindful about safety at work. “We wear face masks and shields and I wash my hands and sanitize all the time,” he explains. “And then I wash my clothes as soon as I get back home.”
The pandemic has been stressful for everyone, Bangura says, but he believes it’s been especially hard on nurses because of the way it impacts the way they can provide care.
“Hospice is a special kind of nursing,“ he explains. “It’s not just about caring for the patient, but also the family.” He says working with patients at the end of life is very personal. It’s important to build confidence and trust with the patient and their family and to let them know that someone is there for them. The most important thing, he says, is to treat each patient with respect and dignity, whether that’s in person or virtually.
Bangura’s key to managing stress is taking one day at a time. In his spare time he likes to listen to music. He enjoys reading books. And he’s very interested in the politics of his adopted country. Bangura walks often and has an exercise machine at home, both of which are great for managing stress. But he especially enjoys weekends watching soccer with his friends.
Most of all, Bangura is passionate about his job in hospice care. “I wish more people were aware of hospice services — it’s such a huge blessing,” he says, adding that hospice patients tend to live a little longer, especially when they begin soon after their end of life diagnosis.
Sulaiman was recently recognized as a Special Ceca Foundation Award Winner for his dedication and professionalism as an RN case manager. His hospice patients and their families were quick to praise his work, saying he consistently displays compassion and goes above and beyond for all his patients.
This is a job where caring for others is just second nature, but Bangura would be the first to tell you he gets much more in return. “When a patient says, ‘Thank you so much,’ it really makes my day,” he says. “It’s just a special feeling to be able to help.”
Helping families cope with loss is an intrinsic part of daily work for Steven Skobel, a palliative care nurse practitioner. “Anyone who works in this business knows in their soul of understanding this is the nature of the business,” he says.
At Capital Caring Health, the largest non-profit provider of elder health, advanced illness, hospice, and at-home care services for the Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. area, he tends to the needs of patients and families alike as a life comes to an end. But even with that familiarity, it has been a challenge to cope with the sheer volume of Covid-19 deaths. There is no escaping the shadow of the pandemic at work, and away from the hospital Skobel and his colleagues have had to find new ways to recharge their batteries for another challenging shift.
As an expert in the field of palliative care, Skobel is part of a relatively new discipline, but one with deep roots in the very origins of nursing. The first hospice was founded in the U.K. after World War II, and in 1990, the World Health Organization recognized palliative care as a specialty dedicated to relieving suffering and improving quality of life for people with serious illnesses. The specialty takes its name from the Latin word, pallium, meaning “cloak.”
Essentially, palliative care wraps the patient and their family in a sort of medical embrace, a way to ease the journey.
Skobel’s career has paralleled the enormous growth in palliative care across the country. He earned his degree in 1991, his master’s in 1998, and a doctorate in 2005. When he first entered nursing school, there were just a handful of men in his class. Over time the profession has become more diverse, embracing more men and a broad mix of ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
No one enters nursing without knowing that it is a “very dangerous” occupation, he says, and there have been diseases in the past that have threatened health providers. What is different with Covid-19 is the scope of the outbreak, he says. It is on a scale that has not been seen since the 1918 Spanish influenza epidemic.
Because of the high number of Covid-related deaths, he has been working as a full-time member of the intensive care team, combining his palliative care expertise with other nursing skills needed in the intensive care unit which, at one point, was operating an extended ward to cope with overflow.
Before Covid-19, Skobel was used to seeing families cope with both sudden, unexpected loss and those who have some warning of what is ahead. Perhaps a bad case of pneumonia takes hold unexpectedly, or a longtime cancer winds towards an inevitable end. Family members might be at a patient’s bedside for two or three weeks. Skobel would guide families through the final days, or hours as they sat bedside, able to touch, talk, and comfort their loved one, and, in turn be comforted by nurses and doctors.
But now, in the midst of a pandemic, that family comfort and professional guidance must come at a distance, with farewells said via FaceTime, and updates and developments delivered by phone or text message.
In recent weeks, the number of cases his team is seeing has fallen. “But it’s a certainty we will see another wave,” he says.
He believes the medical teams battling the virus are better prepared as new patients come in, thanks to a steep learning curve about which drugs work and help flatten the curve. His fellow professionals also have been sharing both formal research from noted journals, and the sort of anecdotal information grounded in daily experiences.
Like everyone else, his life beyond the hospital has changed. “Before Covid I would go to the gym three times a week,” he says, “and I played in a men’s baseball league on Sundays.” Now, he does the family grocery shopping in his scrubs and face mask as he heads home to his wife and one of two daughters who are sheltering in place. He and his wife are walking the family dog daily. Recharging his batteries in new ways.
Dealing with a pandemic has reinforced a fundamental truth he holds about his chosen profession. As he tells nursing students: “All nurses understand palliative care — that’s why they got into this.”
Tom Koutsoumpas serves as President and CEO of Capital Caring Health, one of the largest not-for-profit hospice and advanced illness care providers in the nation. Capital Caring Health ( CCH ), under Tom’s leadership, is dedicated to delivering 24 by 7 care in the patient’s home for anyone of any age suffering from one or more advanced chronic illnesses including children. For those patients that require more intense care around the clock, CCH also operates four inpatient residential centers including the nation’s first inpatient center for hospice services that became operational in 1982. The dedicated staff at CCH serve patients and their caregivers in Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia.
Tom also serves as President & CEO of the National Partnership for Healthcare and Hospice Innovation ( NPHI ). NPHI is a unique not- for- profit organization that includes as members 70 hospice/advanced illness care providers. Collectively NPHI members serve over 121,000 patients and families across America every day and annually provide over 40 million dollars in charity care. Their shared mission is that care must be delivered at the bedside and not dictated in the boardroom.
Earlier in Tom’s career he focused on making the hospice movement in America a reality by helping lead the effort to develop and implement the Medicare hospice benefit. His passion to improve care delivery also led him to be a co-founder of the Coalition to Transform Advanced Care ( C-TAC ). C-TAC is a national, non-profit non partisan alliance of patient and consumer advocacy groups, health care providers both public and private, and faith-based organizations, all with the shared mission of providing comprehensive world-class patient-centered advanced illness care especially for those who might otherwise not have access to the best available chronic illness management.
Other accomplishments include helping establish Healthsperien, a consulting and legal services firm focused on strategic issues that bring together the public and private sectors to advance hospice and advanced illness care. And, Tom is a member of the Roundtable on Quality Care for the seriously ill which is attached to the Medical Division of the National Academy of Sciences and is a contributor to the Project on Advanced Care at the Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School.
Tom is a co-author of A Roadmap to Success: Transforming Advanced Illness Care in America. He also penned the foreword to the publication, Have Your Own Say: Getting the Right Care When It Matters Most ( 2012 ) by Gundersen Health System and the Center for Health Transformation.
A native of Indiana, Tom received his Bachelor of Arts degree in American Studies from Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. where he has served as a Board of Regents member.