The original three (from left): Dee Brazil-Dale, Gail Cardwell and Michael Aureli gather beneath the infamous windchime for a photo in 2006.
A Historical Look Back
As I look back to the beginning of Arkansas Hospice in 1992 and the astonishing journey that brought us to the thriving, mission-driven organization we are today, I think of the famous quote by Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, dedicated citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
Arkansas Hospice began with the vision of a small group of citizens who wanted to improve end-of-life care by establishing the first inpatient hospice facility in our state. Hospice facilities existed in many states and we were determined to bring this much-needed service to Arkansas to serve hospice patients who could not be cared for at home due to complicated symptoms or lack of a caregiver.
In 1993, Carol Lord led the efforts to pull together a group of community leaders who shared this vision and would serve as founding board members. In 1994, a not-for-profit foundation was formed to raise funds to build an inpatient hospice facility. Michael Aureli was appointed president of the foundation and I was appointed development director. In 1995, the hospice agency associated with the foundation became a privately owned, for-profit entity. The not-for-profit foundation’s mission changed to support care for the terminally ill throughout the state and to open a hospice facility that would be available to all in need. The foundation name changed to Hospice Foundation of Arkansas.
With limited financial resources, we set out on our own to create this service — as Michael said — “from scratch.” Gail Cardwell joined us in our small office as manager, so now we were a team of three with a plan to get other jobs if our funds ran out in the coming months. We would then, with our Board, move forward as volunteers.
During those lean years, we served the hospice community by establishing an AIDs education program across the state; implemented the Hospice Heart Awards; helped form a statewide coalition of 27 healthcare providers, Arkansans for Better Care at the End of Life, and assisted in many other activities to support the statewide hospice community.
Meanwhile, efforts to raise funds for the building and to obtain permits were not successful. Legislation was introduced that would prevent licensure of hospice beds and Medicare passed a law that only hospice home care providers could operate inpatient hospices. By 1997, our Board was exhausted from years of fundraising efforts. Michael was faced with telling me and Gail to look for other jobs. That’s when a remarkable event occurred: A college student came by selling wind chimes to fund her schooling. Michael admired her grit and although he thought $14 was overpriced, he purchased the wind chime. As the student left, she said, “It will bring you luck.”
Michael told the story so eloquently of how this wind chime, which still hangs in our office, became a symbol of hope and inspiration to the entire Arkansas Hospice family. When the student left, Michael prayed. He humbly asked for divine help to make this service a reality. The next day, we received a large grant from The Daughters of Charity which sparked fundraising efforts and reenergized our team.
Providential help continued. The Permit of Approval deadline was March 2000 — not enough time to build the hospice. Dr. Eugene Towbin offered a leased wing within the Eugene J. Towbin Veterans Affairs Hospital in North Little Rock. This inpatient hospice facility — the first of its kind in Arkansas — opened in February 2000, just one month before the permit expired.
The dream of a few dedicated people was now a reality; hospice patients needing this special service came from all across the state and the path was now open for other hospices to follow. With Michael’s leadership, an inspired team and community support, Arkansas Hospice grew to its present-day prominence.
Shortly before Michael passed away, we reminisced by telephone on this remarkable history; I can still hear him say, “Dee, we had a good ride didn’t we?” Yes, and I feel so richly blessed to have been a part of it.
— Dee Brazil-Dale
Arkansas Hospice Co-Founder
Written for Arkansas Hospice's 20th anniversary newsletter