Dr. Terry Gutgsell first became interested in hospice work in the late 1960s while in medical school at the University of Kentucky. A professor told him of a woman in England who had just started a support program for terminally ill patients. She was Dame Cicely Saunders, who created the first modern hospice in the world, St. Christopher’s.
Decades later, while practicing medicine in Lexington, he heard an inspirational talk at Hospice of the Bluegrass by Dr. Ira Byock, a pioneer in the early U.S. hospice movement.
“After hearing his talk, coupled with my own professional and personal experiences around death and dying,” said Dr. Gutgsell, “I felt the need to change directions regarding my practice of medicine.”
That led to a Fellowship in Palliative Medicine at the Cleveland Clinic and, upon his return to Lexington, a position as the agency’s first salaried medical director and eventually, chief medical officer.
Around that time, St. Joseph Hospital was in discussions with the agency about starting an inpatient hospice unit at the hospital.
“A 12-bed hospice unit opened and immediately became very successful, such that after several years the unit was expanded to 18 beds. It continues to operate very successfully to this day,” noted Gutgsell.
Bringing compassionate, holistic, multidisciplinary care to patients who were not yet eligible for hospice was the goal of the newly developing field of palliative medicine. The Palliative Care Center of the Bluegrass was started in the late 1990s as a way of serving those patients not eligible for hospice. The agency developed the first outpatient palliative care clinic in Kentucky as well as inpatient palliative care consultation services at St. Joseph Hospital and Central Baptist Hospital. Dr. Gutgsell also helped to build an outpatient clinic at UK’s Markey Cancer Center providing palliative care to patients undergoing cancer treatments.
“Palliative care programs in hospitals have changed the culture and dialogue around end-of-life issues, not only in our local communities in Kentucky but all around the country,” said Dr. Gutsgell.
The Palliative Care Center of the Bluegrass was chosen by the Center to Advance Palliative Care (CAPC) as one of seven Palliative Care Leadership Centers (PCLCs) in the United States. The centers provide intensive educational experiences to health care organizations wanting to start palliative care programs.
“I joyfully and thankfully worked at Hospice of the Bluegrass from 1996 until 2007. My 11 years there were the most exciting and rewarding years of my long practice career,” said Dr. Gutgsell, who in 2007 was recruited back to the Cleveland Clinic, where he worked until retiring in August 2017.