Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Athens Hospital Honored For Palliative, Hospice Care

Published July 21, 2011

St. Mary’s Health Care System has been named a Circle of Life honoree for palliative and hospice care by the American Hospital Association (AHA).

St. Mary’s was recognized for innovative programs that improve quality of care for patients near the end of life or who are living with chronic conditions. Only seven organizations in the United States were recognized, three as award winners and four as recipients of citations of honor.

According to AHA, the Circle of Life Award celebrates programs across America that have made great strides in palliative and end-of-life care. St. Mary’s is the only community hospital in the nation and the only hospital in the South to be cited in the 2011 Circle of Life program, now in its 12th year.

AHA highlighted three innovations in particular at St. Mary’s. Palliative care has been embedded throughout the hospital, from online order sets to multidisciplinary rounding in critical care units.

Aggressive case finding has been put in place to enlist the help of all clinical staff in alerting the hospital’s palliative care staff anytime a patient could benefit from palliative care. A culture change has been implemented at a community level to build understanding internally and externally that all persons deserve compassionate, high-quality care, regardless of their diagnosis or expected length of life.

“Integrating palliative care into every aspect of our system is simply doing the right thing for our patients, our community and our ministry,” said Don McKenna, St. Mary’s president and chief executive officer. “Palliative and hospice care are highly effective demonstrations of our commitment to the sacredness of human life and the dignity of each person we serve. I am as proud as I can be of the dedication shown by our staff and medical staff, day-in and day-out, to living our mission and core values in their personal practice and ministry.”

AHA created the Circle of Life award program to recognize leaders in palliative and hospice care and to promote these vital services for patients. Palliative care is a fast-growing type of care for people with serious medical conditions. It aims to control symptoms and address the total needs of the patient—spiritual, emotional and physical—while helping to meet the patient’s goals for treatment, a cure, or end-of-life care. Hospice is a form of palliative care specifically designed to enhance quality of life for people nearing the end of life and for their families.

“Our palliative care nurses, hospice staff and certified palliative/hospice care physicians have special talents and offer our patients and their families excellent guidance, comfort and compassionate care through difficult times,” said Brenda Dugger, RN, vice president of quality and continuing care. “We constantly get feedback from patients and families complimenting them for their skill, knowledge, and the environment of calm they create.”

“Our passion is for the patients and families we serve as we experience this journey with them,” said Karen Joyce, director of St. Mary’s Home Health Care/Hospice Services, which has been providing hospice care in the Athens area for more than two decades. “Our efforts over the years have been focused on improving access to hospice care throughout Northeast Georgia. We are privileged to care for newborns to centarians in both our home hospice program and inpatient hospice house. The hospice staff is dedicated to treating each person with reverence and respect as they develop their individualized life plan.”

Founded in 1906 and sponsored by the Sisters of Mercy, St. Mary’s Health Care System is a not-for-profit Catholic health care system whose mission is to be a compassionate healing presence in the communities served. For more information, visit the St. Mary’s website at For more information on the Circle of Life Award, visit