Building Unity Through Diversity
Maria Hidalgo Diaz’s father would be proud Maria Hidalgo Diaz’s passion for hospice is a direct result of the death of her father, Manuel Hidalgo, M.D., a well-known cardiologist from Cuba who practiced in Hialeah. "He had colon cancer," Maria says, noting that her father, whose office was next door to Hialeah City Hall for many years, was only 58 when he died. "Everyone in the hospital knew him and he got excellent care, but I wish I’d known about hospice care. It is so important – not only to the patient, but to the family. I had lost another close relative that same year, so I was a mess. I could have used the family support and services that hospice care provides." That’s why Maria, as community relations representative for VITAS Innovative Hospice Care®, is now educating the community about the benefits and services hospice provides at the end of life. As a public relations and communications professional in Miami-Dade County’s healthcare field for 15 years, she particularly enjoys the challenge of taking the hospice message to South Florida’s diverse and often medically underserved communities. "Hospice care provides so much to patients and families, not only in terms of medical support and pain management, but also in emotional support and respite to family members, by helping patients tap into financial resources – such as Medicare, Medicaid or veterans’ benefits, by connecting bereaving family members with others who are grieving … and so much more," says Maria. As a proponent of team work and networking, one way Maria reaches out to South Florida communities is by linking arms with dozens of civic groups, including the Florida Coalition for Hispanic Aging, the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Institute for Non-Violence, the Spanish American League Against Discrimination, the Pan American Health Organization, the Florida Association of Non-profit Organizations, the Latin Builders Association, ALS Association, the South Florida Hospital and Healthcare Association, and more. "I am a bridge builder," says Maria. "I believe in partnerships, and I’ve become an expert in bringing people and organizations together to serve others. This is my gift and contribution to our community." Maria says it helps to represent a company that has been recognized for maintaining a diverse workforce. The Greater Miami Society for Human Resource Management honored VITAS in 2007 with the Diversity Award in Healthcare. "This reinforces the fact that VITAS is committed to serving anyone and everyone in its communities," she says. Maria regularly hosts a VITAS-sponsored Spanish radio talk show, "Celebrando La Vida" (Celebrating Life), and co-hosts "Sin Fronteras" (Without Frontiers) with Rev. Manual Salavarria. Their on-air guests are community leaders, representatives of service organizations and VITAS’ healthcare partners. Among her most recent initiatives, Maria has been working with the Advocacy and Education Committee of the Alliance for Aging, Inc., and the Mayor’s Initiative on Aging to promote "My Medicare Matters," an education program designed to help people with Medicare—but not eligible for Medicaid—learn about and enroll in the new Medicare Prescription Drug Coverage (Part D). Maria’s interest in healthcare took root when her father was practicing in Hialeah. "I would make hospital rounds with him after school and then help in the office," she recalls. "The office at times resembled a social club for the elderly. We served Cuban coffee, and telenovelas played on the television … and my father always seemed to heal his patients with his smile and his jokes." While her own work is no joke, Maria smiles when she reflects on the idea that, as a community relations representative for VITAS, she is continuing her father’s legacy as a proponent of quality, compassionate care for everyone.