Crossroads Hospice Brings Sense of Mission, Purpose to End-of-Life Care
There’s a dichotomy that quickly becomes apparent when visiting Crossroads Hospice’s Memphis office, at 1669 Shelby Oaks Drive, and talking to executives about what they do.
Hospice care might carry a stigma among the general public, they acknowledge, because everyone involved knows how they story is going to end. But for an enterprise that deals so frequently with end-of-life care, its leaders – including Memphis executive director Jean Harrison and company CEO Perry Farmer – are upbeat people who exude joy and warmth as a kind of counterbalance to the job’s less pleasant aspects.
And that the company is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year would seem to underscore that Farmer’s organization has hit on a formula that works. Crossroads today is a $160 million organization based in Tulsa with 1,900 employees in seven states, including the Memphis presence.
To get an idea of its motivation, start with the idea of a crossroads inherent in the company’s name. There comes a point in life, Farmer explains, when a crossroads materializes after it becomes apparent that curative care isn’t necessarily as important anymore as taking care of a person’s emotional and spiritual needs.
“We used to face this idea of, well, you’re giving up or giving up hope,” Farmer said when describing how and why families first move toward hospice care as a treatment possibility. “But really, when you start working in this industry and seeing and helping patients, I think we’re actually giving hope.”
The reason? Everyone reaches the end of their life and makes a transition to what’s next only once. Farmer said his organization exists to make sure that transition happens the right way – where the patient is not distressed or in pain, where everyone involved is prepared in ways that include feeding their spiritual and emotional needs.
Farmer can remember sitting with one family, where members were contributing various care suggestions and focused on the tasks that needed to be done – “but no one was sitting there saying, ‘I love you.’”
“It’s about taking the focus from curing disease to where your last days are pain-free, whether that’s physical pain, emotional pain or spiritual pain,” he said. “Educating doctors about the benefits of hospice is something we still have to do, but to quote an old cliché: It’s about adding life to your days instead of adding days to your life.”
It’s also a differentiated kind of care from something like a nursing home, where stays can be more extended. Hospice care experiences sometimes total just a matter of days. At a place like Crossroads, Farmer says, the care is also distinct from a place where staffers are making the rounds – Crossroads employees treat it like a calling, with a sense of mission and purpose.
It’s a ministry for Crossroads employees, Harrison says. It has to be, because if it was just a job, they wouldn’t stay.
“They do it because it’s meaningful,” she says. “Does it bother them sometimes? Yes, there are times it really bothers them. You always have the one favorite patient that you don’t forget, that you may never forget. That family you’re worried about that’s going to be lost after their mother dies. Which is why there are times when we help each other here.
“And the company is very generous with our time off, allowing us time to regroup.”
She says there are studies that also show families who’ve dealt with hospice care have a shorter grief process. That’s because organizations like Crossroads help them accept and prepare for what’s coming and to say the things to their loved one they might not have a chance to say much longer.
“We really become what I think is a lifeline for people,” Harrison said.