Saturday, April 21, 2018
News Roundup

Hospice pioneer Mary Labyak dies under the care she helped create

Mary Labyak was among a half dozen people who gathered for a cause more than 30 years ago.

Some had worked to advance civil rights and other political matters. But together, they agreed that the rights of dying people was one issue that could no longer be ignored.

Out of a four-bedroom house in Clearwater, they created Suncoast Hospice, one of the first hospice care organizations in the nation. Later to serve as the organization's CEO, Ms. Labyak proceeded to lead the hospice from its origin as a scrappy health care nonprofit to the vanguard of a new multibillion dollar industry.

After battling cancer for more than a year, Ms. Labyak died Saturday (Feb. 4, 2012) at her Clearwater home in the care of a Suncoast Hospice team, the same type of care that she had helped make possible for Americans dying of terminal illness. She was 63.

"She was someone who had a deep understanding and was so articulate of what the social mission of hospice was," said Scott Kistler, Suncoast Hospice's vice president for organizational advancement. "She had a profound impact on the way people experienced end-of-life in Pinellas County and across the nation."

• • •

Taken for granted now as typical end-of-life care, hospices are a relatively new concept. According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the name "hospice" was first applied in 1967 with the founding of the first modern hospice in London.

By 1975, the United States had a grand total of two hospices.

Two years later, Ms. Labyak, then a social worker, hatched the Suncoast Hospice with a handful of like-minded volunteers seeking to improve care for the dying.

"When they started Suncoast, it was very small, mainly volunteer based," said Martha Lenderman, who has been on the nonprofit board the past 16 years. "It was Mary who created what we have today, and 99 percent of it was her inspiration. She was a brilliant person."

Ms. Labyak had impeccable timing.

In 1978, the federal government endorsed hospice care as a viable and cheap way to provide more humane care for Americans dying of terminal illness. That verdict justified the spending of billions in federal support on the new form of care.

With the federal spigot wide open, Ms. Labyak was appointed president, executive director and CEO in 1983. Along with the rest of the industry, Suncoast Hospice grew at an extraordinary rate. By 1995, the hospice said it cared for 34 percent of people who died in Pinellas County.

The organization had outgrown its headquarters in Largo by 2002 and moved to a 22 acre-campus, complete with 21 buildings for counseling, meetings and training west of St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport along Roosevelt Boulevard.

By then, the overall industry had grown to 2,454 hospices, financed by $5.9 billion in Medicare spending.

Among the approximate 7,000 people who died under Suncoast Hospice care in 2005, one in particular drew national attention. Terri Schiavo had collapsed from cardiac arrest in 1990 at age 26, possibly from her bout with bulimia. Schiavo entered Suncoast's Woodside Hospice House in Pinellas Park in 2000.

The ensuing battle that finally ended in 2005 between her family over whether she should be allowed to die put Ms. Labyak and her staff in the middle of one of the most divisive political controversies in recent years.

"Some people wrote letters and said they were not going to donate anymore because they were against" the removal of Schiavo's feeding tube, Ms. Labyak told the Times then. "Others sent contributions because they said they were proud of what we were doing."

As a leader, she knew well the concerns of those stricken with chronic illness and debilitating injuries, Lenderman said. And as a recent cancer patient, she came to know equally well what it was like to be on the other side of hospice care and the importance of the services for patients and their families.

"We always believed that our hospice didn't exist to be simply a provider of the hospice Medicare benefit," Ms. Labyak said in a speech last year at the National Hospice Foundation's annual gala. "We believed that we existed to change the world."

At that gala, Ms. Labyak received the foundation's Healthcare Architect Award, a prestigious honor whose previous recipients included Sen. Edward Kennedy. She spoke of the history of Suncoast Hospice and the organization's mission to provide dying patients care to which they were entitled.

Under her leadership, Suncoast Hospice spearheaded many specialty programs for specific patients. These included programs for children, AIDS patients, trauma and suicide survivors.

"There is just a fire and passion when people start that way instead of for financial reasons," said Betti Oldanie, who was appointed last week as the group's interim CEO. "I had never before experienced a leader who started a conversation with 'what does the patient and family need?'

"She understood the need to be both a sound business and a caring sanctuary."

Comments
Clearwater Central Catholic tops Dunedin Spring Tournament host in extra innings

Clearwater Central Catholic tops Dunedin Spring Tournament host in extra innings

DUNEDIN — After losing a four-run lead thanks to a bad sixth inning, it would have been easy for Clearwater Central Catholic to fold against Dunedin in the final of the 49th annual Dunedin Spring Tournament. But quality relief pitching from Gar...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Span, Rays top Twins in 10 innings

Span, Rays top Twins in 10 innings

ST. PETERSBURG — Roughly four hours before taking the field against his former team Friday, Rays outfielder Denard Span spoke admirably about the Minnesota Twins, their organization in general, even hometown icon Joe Mauer.But business is busin...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Lightning feels Ryan McDonagh’s impact

Lightning feels Ryan McDonagh’s impact

BRANDON — Ryan McDonagh blocks shots. He competes for pucks in the corners and wins those battles. He moves the puck up the ice well. He can join the rush. He can shoot from the blue line. He kills penalties."It was a great pickup by (Lightning...
Updated: 4 hours ago

High school scoreboard for April 20

Friday’s scoreboardSoftballSpringstead 15, Central 0
Updated: 4 hours ago
St. Pete says discharge never reached the bay. Its own report says otherwise.

St. Pete says discharge never reached the bay. Its own report says otherwise.

ST. PETERSBURG — The city said not one of the 266,000 gallons of reclaimed water released on Jan. 18 reached Tampa Bay.There was no mention of the waste released from the Northeast Water Reclamation Facility ever reaching the bay in the city’s notice...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Tampa Bay students voice opinions on gun laws during school walkouts

Tampa Bay students voice opinions on gun laws during school walkouts

Nicole Leary and Taylor Redington stood outside St. Petersburg High School on Friday morning with parents and protesters who had gathered with bullhorns and signs. In a few minutes they would lead about 70 students on a walk to City Hall, joining oth...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Deputies: Woman in road rage incident targeted ... a school bus?

Deputies: Woman in road rage incident targeted ... a school bus?

TAMPA — Deputies are searching for a woman accused of blocking a special needs school bus with her car, getting out and banging and kicking on the bus door until she broke the glass.And there were four children inside, deputies said, as she shouted a...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Sami Vatanen a big loss for Devils if he doesn’t play in Game 5

Sami Vatanen a big loss for Devils if he doesn’t play in Game 5

BRANDON – Devils top defenseman Sami Vatanen had not traveled to Tampa as of Friday afternoon, according to coach John Hynes, and his availability for Game 5 Saturday against the Lightning is in doubt.Hynes, however, did not rule out Vatan...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Plan to entice developers to help pay for Rays ballpark hits speed bump

Plan to entice developers to help pay for Rays ballpark hits speed bump

TAMPA — Private developers would bear much of the cost of a new Rays stadium in Ybor City under a plan Hillsborough County officials are putting together.Developers would benefit by cashing in on commercial, retail and other construction around a ne...
Updated: 7 hours ago
St. Pete police search for missing 20-year-old woman

St. Pete police search for missing 20-year-old woman

ST. PETERSBURG — Officers are searching for a 20-year-old woman who they believe to be missing and who could be in danger.Kayla Brandi Boone was last seen at about 11 p.m. Thursday in the 2700 block of Fourth Street S, according to St. Petersburg pol...
Updated: 7 hours ago