November 17, 2008

Florence Wald, Hospice Pioneer, Dies At 91

A leader in hospice care in the United States and a former Yale nursing dean, Florence Wald, died at age 91.

Her daughter, Shari Vogler, said Wald died November 8th of natural causes at her Branford home, and a hospice volunteer was by her side to the end.

During the 1960s, Wald was dean of the Yale University School of Nursing when she updated its curriculum to include a stronger focus on comfort for dying patients and their families.

The founder of St. Christopher's Hospice in London ignited Wald's passion for hospice when she heard his lecture. She decided later to study at that center.

She returned to organize Connecticut Hospice in 1974, widely accepted to be the first U.S. hospice program.

The hospice movement, which includes more than 3,200 programs nationwide, focuses on providing care for terminally ill patients and their families.

Vogler said her husband and children also became deeply involved with her work.

"It was a family affair," said Vogler, a nurse and trained hospice worker. "My mother was interested in the entire span of life, from birth through death, and she shared everything she was interested in with us all the way along the way."

Wald's recently worked to bring hospice care to U.S. prisons and train inmates as hospice volunteers.

She was born in New York and graduated from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts in 1938 before receiving her master's degree in nursing from Yale in 1941. She was a nurse, research assistant and teacher before becoming dean of Yale's College of Nursing in 1959.

Wald has said before hospice was commonplace, many physicians were too focused on the evolving technology of medicine that their attention to patients' needs was being eroded.

"It was difficult for them to give up the treatment even when they saw the patient was going down, down, down and suffering more, more, more," she told The Associated Press at her 1998 induction into the National Women's Hall of Fame.

"There are times when the symptoms can't be controlled, and the physician and nurses and others need to meet that patient and let the patient decide for themselves what they want," Wald said.

Congress ordered Medicare in 1982 to start paying for hospice service; about 900,000 patients currently receive services each year from programs.

"Our mother was passionate that all people should be treated as important," said Wald's son, Joel Wald, adding she also was interested in civil rights and the rights of women, patients and veterans. "We're very fortunate to have had a mother who touched so many lives."

Wald was honored in a memorial service at Yale on Wednesday, Vogler said.