Area downpours across the Little Rock metro area did not dampen spirits, as Dr. Susan Santa Cruz, M.D. was honored with the Arkansas Hospice Foundation’s inaugural Gifts of Kindness Award on Thursday, June 6th. The award was part of the Arkansas Hospice Foundation and Arkansas Hospice, Inc. Presidents’ Luncheon. Sharon Aureli, president of the Arkansas Hospice Foundation Board of Directors and Beth Ingram, president of the Arkansas Hospice, Inc. Board of Directors served as co-hosts for the event.
The Trio’s special events room was filled with friends and Arkansas Hospice supporters who joined Dr. Santa Cruz for a native Arkansas-themed lunch. As attendees dined, Arkansas Hospice Foundation Chair Sharon Aureli shared the stories of “Faces of Kindness.” While holding placemats picturing the faces of Gifts of Kindness recipients, Sharon told the story behind each face featured. These included a patient who experienced his lifelong dream of a lobster dinner, a teenage girl and her best friend who were able to experience a nice hotel in Branson and matching shirts, another pediatric patient who after given a package of makeup realized she was beautiful just like she was, a special salute to veteran patients, and more.
As lunch concluded, Arkansas Hospice Board of Directors Chair-elect Sharon Davis introduced the event honoree, referring to Dr. Santa Cruz as a “highly-respected physician, an accomplished musician, and a ‘rock star,’” referring to her long-standing role of lead singer in The B-Flats. Davis further expressed how Dr. Santa Cruz had a “hospice heart,” and a “deep, deep commitment to others.”
After receiving a standing ovation, Dr. Santa Cruz told the crowd that for her, the Gifts of Kindness award was really the “why I can’t retire” award. She said there were two things that she had experienced that led her into hospice. First was witnessing the care her father received in 1978 while living in New Mexico, suffering from multiple sclerosis and diagnosed with advanced lung cancer. The general practice physician caring for her father administered comfort care in her father’s home, “before hospice was an entity.” Fast-forward to her early days of practice, Dr. Santa Cruz told the crowd about stories of providing comfort care to seriously ill patients in their homes, calling it “hospice without hospice.” She said that the concept of hospice care “has been there all along,” even though it was not until the 1980s that the practice of hospice became formalized.
Describing her time with Arkansas Hospice as a “long dance,” Dr. Santa Cruz said her involvement with the organization started before it was operational. She said she met with Arkansas Hospice founder Michael Aureli, who convinced her to be on the newly forming organization’s physician advisory committee. From there, her involvement with Arkansas Hospice continued through other committees, to board chair, to search committee, where she was involved in the hiring of Dr. Neal Wyatt as the organization’s first full time medical director. Dr. Santa Cruz started practicing hospice care with Arkansas Hospice on a part-time basis in 2009, after her “first retirement party” upon the dissolving of her medical office. Saying she “loved it,” her focus of care was physician home visits for Arkansas Hospice patients.
Dr. Santa Cruz said her “second retirement party” came in 2014, after she had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease the previous year. Saying it was then time to actually retire, it “didn’t take either,” so her work with Arkansas Hospice went from “part time, to part, part time.”
Today, Dr. Santa Cruz still occasionally fills in for physicians with Arkansas Hospice. She described the experience as “always wonderful.” She said as a “part, part, part-time physician,” she’s not ready to stop. With a tearful conclusion of her award acceptance, Dr. Santa Cruz said she looks forward to Arkansas Hospice serving her, too, as we all have an unknown future, but “not today.”
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.