By Lois Thomson

Patty Husted began her career as a nurse but said she “never thought about going into management when I was in nursing school.” However, she now finds herself as executive vice president of operations for VITAS© Healthcare and admits it’s “a calling and passion for me.”

Patty Husted

VITAS, the nation’s largest single-source provider of end-of-life care, is located in 14 states and the District of Columbia, and Husted oversees operations in 49 of 67 counties in Florida, and 24 counties in the greater Atlanta area. “In this division we take care of 11,000 patients and their families on a daily basis, providing compassionate hospice and palliative care,” she said.

Husted explained that each patient has a personalized care plan that the clinicians set up based on their diagnosis, unique needs, and goals of care. “The patient receives support from an interdisciplinary care team: a nurse, doctor, chaplain, social worker, home health aide, bereavement specialist, and volunteer, and each team is led by a team manager. Our specially trained healthcare professionals provide therapeutic, emotional, and pastoral services, as well as all medications, medical supplies, and medical equipment related to the terminal disease. We also offer grief and bereavement support to the families.”

All of this requires extensive supervision, and Husted travels quite a bit – more than 75 percent of the time pre-COVID – to make sure everything is on track. “I am out in the field as a very hands-on operator, because communication is so important.”

Her work overall is significant because, as she said, “It’s a simple fact of life that we’re all going to die someday. I believe we deserve to have someone we know available if we have pain or anxiety or need any emotional support. You have so many people around you at birth, you should have the same access at the end for moving on from this life. It’s the passion part for me.”

One part of her job is creating policies and procedures that improve patient care, and she gave one example implemented years ago that has been put into practice many times, including recently. “Being here so long, we’ve developed standards of how we manage different things, and one of those I’m most proud of is how we respond to hurricanes.” Husted worked at VITAS when Hurricane Andrew blew through Florida in 1992, and said she learned a lot.

“I took a lead role in developing specific protocols. We ask standard questions and use a process to speed up orders for additional medications, supplies, oxygen; we want to be proactive, especially if the power goes out.” A process is also in place to arrange for proper coverage in the facilities, while making sure staff has time to prepare their own homes as well. “It’s quite organized, and these processes allow us to reassure our patients and families, who are understandably anxious.”

Husted said one of the challenges of her work is not knowing what the patient wants, and the family not knowing either. “It’s still a difficult conversation for folks to have about death and dying.” She said when she thinks of what everyone has gone through with COVID, “it made us realize we should have a discussion about what we want done, what we don’t want done, and ensure that somebody will be our true voice. Don’t wait and let somebody have to figure it out at the end of life because there’s so much stress that’s inherent and natural.”

On the other hand, one of the best parts is knowing that the family received the education they needed, that their loved one was kept comfortable, and also that they provided for a better quality of life sooner in the disease process rather than later. With this, patients experience compassionate care with dignity as they near death. “There is a different level of peace that you see in these situations.”

Husted joined VITAS in 1989 as a hospice nurse in an inpatient unit, but said, “You never know what’s around the corner.” For Husted, her corner came in the early ’90s, when a team manager needed to move back home to take care of her father. Husted recalled, “I remember her saying ‘I’d feel much better if I knew you would step into my role. Everyone already sees you as the new clinician on the team.’ It turned out that I had a knack for leading; I love to educate and mentor others to do this work. It’s more of a calling and passion for me than anything else.”


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