Our History

VITAS was founded in 1978 as Hospice Care Inc., one of the nation’s first hospice programs. But our story really begins in the mid-1970s, when Hugh A. Westbrook, an ordained United Methodist minister, and Esther T. Colliflower, a registered nurse, and Don Gaetz saw a void in the treatment of people with terminal illnesses.

The group poses for a photo on the steps at the U.S. Capitol

VITAS founders Hugh Westbrook (top center) and Don Gaetz (top right) are pictured alongside hospice leaders for the American hospice movement, posing on the U.S. Capitol steps in 1983.

As a pioneer in the American hospice movement, VITAS was instrumental in leading a bipartisan effort to add hospice to the healthcare payment system. In October 1983, the Medicare Hospice Benefit was enacted, ensuring coverage for all Medicare beneficiaries for care related to terminal illnesses or any illness that shortens life expectancy.

This pivotal moment in US healthcare history happened because a few visionaries saw the gap that existed for patients nearing the end of life. 

As a result of these efforts, Medicare pays for hospice services. Many states have established Medicaid coverage for hospice, and virtually all private insurers and managed care plans provide coverage for hospice care.

Today, VITAS is America’s leading provider of end-of-life care, working in cooperation with hospitals, physicians, nursing homes, senior living communities, insurers, and community-based organizations throughout the nation. We remain committed to identifying and closing gaps in treatment.

VITAS works to ensure that seriously ill patients and their families of all walks of life have timely access to compassionate and effective end-of-life care.

The three men together in a VITAS meeting room

Don Gaetz (center) with EVP & COO Joel Wherley and President & CEO Nick Westfall in 2024.

VITAS has been a pioneer in hospice care since 1978.


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