Our Four-Decade History of Hospice Leadership

VITAS Healthcare began in 1978, founded by Hugh Westbrook, a Methodist minister, and Esther Colliflower, a nurse, who shared the belief that America needed more effective, compassionate end-of-life care.

VITAS employees who worked with Hugh and Esther during VITAS’ formative years describe the challenges, energy and excitement of creating a healthcare specialty from the ground up—and watching it flourish and expand, decade after decade.

“Forty years ago, hospice was not a word that was common knowledge,” recalls Grace Fernandez, senior national patient care administrator who acknowledges greater public understanding today of what hospice is and how it is delivered. “We are serving more patients, but the truth is that what we did back then is what we do today … I have known employees who have been with VITAS for 30, 35 years…this is a calling.”

VITAS: Hospice Pioneers and Innovators

Long-time VITAS employees take pride in the company’s early and ongoing commitment to its patients, their families, its employees and the evolution of hospice care and coverage for all Americans.

“That is why we all came to work here,” recalls Bob Miller, a former VITAS chaplain who is now executive vice president and chief compliance officer. “We wanted to take care of patients and families.”

Today, VITAS employs over 10,000 hospice advocates who care for more than 19,000 patients daily in 15 states and the District of Columbia.

A Legacy of Commitment to Patients and Families

Throughout its more than 40-year history, VITAS employees have watched the company expand into new markets, embrace technology, expand supportive services to meet ever-changing patient needs, and create disease-specific care protocols for heart disease, chronic lung disease, Alzheimer’s/dementia, HIV/AIDs and other progressive illnesses.

“We are definitely pioneers and we have paved the way for a lot of other programs and healthcare institutions and other hospices,” says Nancy Auster, RN, an admissions nurse. “They modeled after us. I am so proud of VITAS for that.”

Call VITAS to learn more about hospice and palliative care options.


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