NEW PORT RICHEY — Shortly after opening its doors in July 1989, Gulfside Hospice faced a financial crisis, founder Carol Springer recalled. The staff gathered round a former dining room table that they called their prayer table for daily conferences.
“We sat at that (prayer) table and said we really need some influx of cash,” Springer told an audience of about 150 guests at the agency’s 25th anniversary breakfast.
She added: “It had hardly escaped our mouths when the FedEx man walked in and handed me a red, white and blue envelope with a $5,000 check in it. That kept us going. We //(have) never missed payroll” the past quarter century.
Then known as Central Gulfside Hospice, Gulfside accepted its first hospice patient on July 5, 1989.
Now known as Gulfside Hospice & Pasco Palliative Care, the agency has grown to 14 locations throughout Pasco to serve more than 350 patients daily. GH employs more than 250 professionals, has more than 550 volunteers and is the only hospice that serves Pasco County exclusively.
“It has dedicated every shred of its energy and its resources to help people,” Gulfside board chairman Daniel Heinig commented. “I want to thank our staff who brings humanity, comfort and compassion to people who are suffering. As I have said in the past, hospice brings calm to the chaos of a terminal condition (for) the patient and loved ones.”
“This is really a special day for me,” Springer related. “Twenty-five years, it hardly seems possible.”
The miracles continued, Springer reminisced, with relocation to 7760 Massachusetts Ave. and then the Lafayette Avenue site in the downtown New Port Richey area. Hospice House remains there.
Long-time board member Larry Starnes then presented a crystal vase filled with flowers to Ward, who came on board to lead Gulfside in 2004.
Ward reflected how hospices proved their effectiveness for humane care while reducing costs ever since the first few pioneering agencies in the 1970s.
By 1989, government health-care programs began reimbursements as a benefit for hospice care.
“So really Carol, good year to open Gulfside,” Ward said with a chuckle to Springer.
Palliative care was added in 2009. The We Honor Veterans program began, with Gulfside among only 50 hospices nationwide to achieve level 4 status in care of veterans.
Another newcomer in 2004 was Kathy Postiglione, now Gulfside’s chief operating officer and senior vice president of business development.
“We were looking for people to take us to the next level,” Postiglione said. Government officials were demanding more documentation and audits and Gulfside exceeded the new standards.
Postiglione likened the challenges of Gulfside staff to the circus acrobats performing a balancing act to create a human pyramid.
“It’s a situation where one misstep can cause a collapse,” Postiglione said as she showed a slide of the circus act.
Shelley Schneider, director of patient counseling and resources, said Gulfside staff comfort each other as well as patients.
Gulfside not long ago cared for a 17-year-old girl with brain cancer. Gulfside paid for veterinarian care for her two dogs through the Pet Peace of Mind program so the canines could remain with the young cancer patient.
As her health worsened, the girl moved into inpatient hospice care where staff and school officials set up her very own graduation ceremony, complete with cap and gown.
She died shortly after the ceremony.
“We all deal with death and dying every day,” Schneider said. “Some of the staff really struggled in coping with the death of such a young person.” Staff members shared their grief and held a memorial service for her.
Jeanette Tatro then shared her insights as Gulfside volunteer of the year. She had gained a lot of her awareness after caring for her husband for 18 years.
Carla Armstrong, fundraising manager, quotedMargaret Mead, the American cultural anthropologist and author. “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
The Gulfside anniversary breakfast celebrates all the people at Gulfside who made a difference in Pasco County, Armstrong said.