New leadership at Freda H. Gordon Hospice means continued compassion and care for patients and families

by | Oct 1, 2018 | Uncategorized

After spending a decade of his adult life helping poor people in southwest China, Tom Elder came home to watch his father die – with dignity– thanks to excellent caregivers. Through it all, he learned compassion. And the value of hospice.

That’s just part of the background Tom Elder brings to his role as the new administrator of Freda H. Gordon Hospice and Palliative Care, a joint program of Beth Sholom Village and Jewish Family Service.

“My dad lived 13 months after they discovered he had a brain tumor,” says Elder. “Watching the nurses at work left a powerful impact on me.”

It led him to nursing school and eventually in 2014 to Freda Gordon. Now he’s the administrator, but Elder defers to an even more experienced medical practitioner when it comes to managing the RN’s and CNA’s who do the challenging day to day work of meeting with stressed families and keeping patients comfortable during their last months on earth. That would be Michelle Capestany, RN. “We coordinate all the resources, whether it’s nurses, chaplains, social workers, physical therapists, or volunteers,” says the New York native. “Our goal is to provide comfort but also education.”

Indeed that is what families need more than anything, says Elder. “They want to understand the disease process, in other words how their loved one’s condition will change based on our experience of observing patients suffering from cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, or other chronic conditions. Most people wish to die at home, not in the hospital, and want to have their wishes for treatment followed. That’s our job, in concert with the family.”

Two doctors have to agree that a person has six months or less to live before hospice is certified. What makes the experience more bearable for all parties is if the individual has previously established an advanced directive. “Joan Rivers signed one saying that if she was not able to do an hour long stand-up comedy routine, she did not want to live any longer,” says Elder, “so her daughter knew exactly what ‘quality of life’ meant to her mother when she was dying after surgery.”

Others may say it’s when they can no longer chew, swallow, walk, read, or be able to participate in other activities of daily living, says Capestany. “If the living will is in place, it can help avoid friction among sons and daughters who naturally want the best for their mom or dad.”

Capestany, who earlier worked in pediatric oncology and then as a hospice counselor in emergency rooms, says what makes Freda Gordon a premier provider is that their RN’s generally have lower case loads and make more personal visits over the mandatory minimum. She also focuses on ensuring continuity of care from the same CNA’s, which families appreciate. “Also we offer palliative care, which is more symptom focused,” she says. Elder defines it as a “bridge to hospice.”

For hospice patients, death is just a matter of time. “It’s what we do with that time that is important,” says Capestany. “That’s why our staff at Freda Gordon, which is available to help patients of any religious denomination, does all it can to make the patient comfortable while also helping the family cope, encouraging them to talk to their relative or friend about the past or present, even if they don’t think they are listening. You would be surprised how much they actually hear.”

Elder says that patients and families can ask the discharge planner or doctor to refer to Freda Gordon for hospice or palliative care, or call the office, which is located at the Reba and Sam Sandler Family Campus at 757-321-2242.

Did You Know?

According to the American Hospice Foundation, “patients with a terminal illness do not usually have to pay for hospice care. Those costs are covered by Medicare (through the Medicare Hospice Benefit), Medicaid (in most states), and The Veteran’s Health Administration.”

What You Should Know About Hospice and Palliative Care

Tuesday, October 9, 7 pm Beth Sholom Village


• Tom Elder and Michelle Capestany, administrator and nursing director for Freda Gordon Hospice and Palliative Care

• Dr. Juanita Smith, MD, Glennan Center for Geriatrics at EVMS and Beth Sholom Village medical staff Call 757-420-2512 for more information.

— Joel Rubin