When a group of dedicated citizens composed of medical and other professionals joined with volunteers in 1978 to form a nonprofit called Community Hospice of Lexington, they hired Gretchen Brown as Executive Director. It was a position she would hold for more than 30 years.
“Having recently experienced caring for my mother following cancer treatment, I was personally motivated to address the needs of patients and families. Additionally, I had a baby and a preschooler and was looking for a less demanding job! Little did I realize for the next 32 years my job would be more challenging and rewarding than I could have imagined.”
The organization’s volunteers cared for the first hospice patient in Kentucky in March 1978.
Volunteers and fundraising were critical in the early years, Brown explained, as very few insurance companies paid for hospice care, nor did Medicare or Medicaid until well into the 1980s.
It was under Brown’s leadership that patients cared for by Lexington physicians started coming to Community Hospice. Outside of Lexington, no hospices or volunteer programs were able to offer the Medicare benefit.
The organization’s steady growth “could not have happened without the support of an always exceptional board of directors, a professional and committed staff, wonderful devoted volunteers and extremely generous community,” said Brown. “The contributions of the many physicians who served in countless roles including volunteer medical directors cannot be overestimated.”
The agency began serving Scott and Woodford counties, changing its name to Hospice of the Bluegrass. Over the next few years, Franklin, Anderson, Bourbon, Harrison and Nicholas counties were added to service areas.
Brown guided the agency through several mileposts, including “Joint Commission accreditation, building a robust bereavement and spiritual care program, starting our own pharmacy and Durable Medical Equipment (DME). Likewise the Kaufman Center and Hospice Care Center in Hazard were only two of several building projects over the years.”
She has witnessed dramatic changes in hospice care over her more than three decades in not only statewide but national leadership roles. For many years Brown served on the board of directors of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO), including chair years.
“In my mind one of the major changes has been that now a majority of hospices in the United States are for-profit entities. These programs may provide good service, but they don’t have the richness and breadth of programs like Bluegrass Care Navigators.”
We thank Brown for her leadership, hard work and inspiration in fulfilling our mission to provide patient-centered care to the seriously ill and their families, with excellence and compassion. Today, she continues to live in Lexington, supporting the growth of hospice in our community through her philanthropy, volunteerism and strategic support.