From its humble beginnings to the present, Arkansas Hospice has – through a sense of hard work, care and compassion – built a strong, trusted reputation throughout Arkansas.
Our roots go back to a day in 1983 when a young man named Michael Aureli wrapped his mother – who suffered from ovarian cancer – in a blanket and carried her to an emergency room, only to hear, “There is nothing more we can do for you.” Years later, Michael and his colleague Dee Brazil-Dale would go on to become the founders of Arkansas Hospice.
With the help of other concerned citizens, Michael and Dee formed a grass-roots movement focused on building a strong, nonprofit organization that would help Arkansans with life-limiting illnesses live their final days in dignity and comfort.
Those efforts resulted in Arkansas Hospice being incorporated in the state of Arkansas as a private, not-for-profit organization on January 17, 1992. It is classified federally as a 501(c)3 charitable organization.
Arkansas Hospice made history again in February 2000 when it opened the first hospice inpatient center in Arkansas in a leased wing of the Eugene Towbin Healthcare Center at Fort Roots in North Little Rock.
As for Michael Aureli, he served as the president and chief executive officer of Arkansas Hospice from May 1995 to June 2011, when he passed away at the age of 61 as a patient of the program he helped create. Dee Brazil-Dale retired as executive director of the Arkansas Hospice Foundation and vice president of development for Arkansas Hospice in 2006.
The organization is currently led by Judith S. Wooten, who was named president and CEO of Arkansas Hospice on July 28, 2011.
Since its start, Arkansas Hospice has grown from one location in North Little Rock to 10 offices and three inpatient centers that touch more than 40 counties. With its corporate office at 14 Parkstone Circle in North Little Rock, Arkansas Hospice is now the largest, non-profit hospice organization in the state.
By Dee Brazil-Dale, Arkansas Hospice Co-Founder
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 re-energized 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.
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I have nothing but the best things to say about Arkansas Hospice. They were so good to my Dad before he passed away. The love and care, compassion they showed to my dad was priceless. The nurses and CNA’s that took care of my Dad are the best and always be the best.
We are just starting our dad’s final journey and Arkansas Hospice has been a blessing. They’ve taught us so much already and provide as much support and comfort to the family as they do my dad. I’m grateful they’ll be walking this final path with us.
I love Arkansas Hospice. Every single employee has a heart of gold and takes the best care of their patients.
I would not hesitate at all to recommend this provider for anyone who is considering hospice care for themselves or for a loved one.
Arkansas Hospice took care of my Mom before she passed. It was my first experience with any hospice and I was amazed. They took such great care of her. They treated her with dignity and respect until the end.
So many thanks for the way your staff treated my very dear friend, Jeff, as he raced toward the finish line. Words can’t express my gratitude for helping us to care for him and keep him comfortable. Top-notch professionalism and immediate responses to requests for assistance.