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VITAS Story

In 1978, Hugh Westbrook and Esther Colliflower formed Hospice Care, Inc., in Miami. Two years later they would expand to nearby Fort Lauderdale, the first of many steps in our company’s growth. But even as they were developing their vision for hospice care in South Florida, Hugh and Esther were also becoming active in the national hospice movement.

They soon met Don Gaetz, a hospital administrator who shared their interest in hospice. In 1979, Hugh and Don collaborated to secure passage of a hospice licensure law in Florida, the first of its kind in any state.

The following year, the VITAS hospice programs in Miami and Fort Lauderdale participated in a federal demonstration project that developed model clinical protocols and procedures for hospice programs across the country. In 1981, Hugh and Don helped to lead the National Hospice Education Program, a grassroots campaign to encourage Medicare coverage of hospice care. The campaign was a success; in 1982, Congress added hospice services as a Medicare benefit and President Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law.