ST. PETERSBURG —Mary Labyak began volunteering at Suncoast Hospice more than three decades ago, when it was a small organization and when just giving cancer patients adequate painkillers could be controversial.
Labyak, 62, and Suncoast have come a long way since then. With her at the helm, it covers all of Pinellas County and has grown into one of the nation's largest hospice programs, known for a wide range of services, including counseling for children with dying loved ones, parents who lose children via miscarriage and families dealing with suicide or murder.
Last week, the National Hospice Foundation, gave Labyak its "Healthcare Architect'' award for significant impact on end-of-life and palliative care.
"Of the many skilled and accomplished leaders in our field, Mary rises to the top for her long-standing commitment to end-of-life care,'' foundation president J. Donald Schumacher said in a release. "The numerous innovations she has implemented in her own program make Suncoast Hospice one of the most admired hospices in the country.''
Previous winners of the award include Sen. Edward Kennedy (posthumously), the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and former Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph Califano.
"I'm very, very honored and humbled,'' Labyak said last week. "I'm very mindful that this isn't about me. It's about everybody who worked and volunteered at our hospice and also about the people of Pinellas County and how they reach out and care about each other.''