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32 Years and 32 Counties Later: Gretchen Brown -- Significant Force for Hospice Growth in Kentucky – Retiring

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) After 32 years as the leader of Hospice of the Bluegrass, Gretchen Marcum Brown, MSW, will retire in September.

Brown was named President and CEO of Hospice in 1982. When she started, Community Hospice of Lexington, as it was known then, served 18 patients in Fayette County with five staff and 38 volunteers. Today, Hospice of the Bluegrass serves nearly 700 patients daily in 32 central, southeastern and northern Kentucky counties. Staff totals over 400 and the volunteer base is near 1,000.

Bob Milward was chairman of the Hospice Board of Directors when Brown was hired. He remembers the Board determining that Brown was the “right person to lead Hospice.” History shows they made a wise choice.

Today, Brown is recognized across the nation as an expert in end-of-life care. Medical writer and healthcare journalist Larry Beresford called her “one of the most successful, innovative and respected leaders of the American hospice movement, with a record of achievement that speaks for itself.”

There have been many accomplishments along the way. One of the first was in 1986, when Kentucky became the first state to add hospice care as a Medicaid benefit. Brown was instrumental in achieving that goal.

In 2000, Brown was the force behind Hospice of the Bluegrass receiving a Center to Advance Palliative Care grant, making it the first hospice in the country to host a Palliative Care Leadership Center.

Brown has served on many local, state and national boards including a term as Chair of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. “Not only is Gretchen a long-time hospice veteran – she is a leader in her community, state and on the national level, said NHPCO President and CEO, J. Donald Schumacher. “Her program has been at the forefront of palliative care services and serves as a model to the entire hospice community.”

Brown also chaired the National Hospice Work Group, a "think tank" composed of leaders from around the United States who are considered to be among the most influential authorities on end-of-life care in this country. Locally, she serves on the UK College of Public Health, External Advisory Council. Brown received her BA and MSW from UK. She has taught in the UK College of Social Work and presently serves as adjunct faculty in the UK College of Health Sciences.

This year Brown was awarded with the first Galen Miller Leadership Award that is given to a leader who has worked diligently to improve quality, access and care delivery for all people facing serious and life-limiting illness. Brown was also recently recognized by the organization she has led for 32 years by being designated as a Hospice Hero for Lifetime Achievement.

In addition, Brown was the first recipient of a new award introduced by the Kentucky Association of Hospice and Palliative Care -- the Gretchen M. Brown Lifetime Achievement Award. This award recognizes hospice professionals or volunteers who have dedicated their careers to forwarding the mission of hospice and palliative care. KAHPC says the award was named for Brown because she is a true champion for hospice, care of the dying and their families, her passion for end-of-life care has made her a leader not only in Kentucky but across the country, and her dedication serves as an ongoing inspiration to others.

A quote from a Hospice Newsletter sums her legacy up perfectly. “…..it happens all the time to Gretchen Brown. She’ll meet someone at a store, or at a party, or just walking in her neighborhood. Upon learning that Gretchen is CEO of Hospice of the Bluegrass, the person will relate a detailed, sometimes tear-filled, story of the death of a loved one, and how Hospice care made that experience less painful. Then the person will give Gretchen a hug. “It’s one of the most satisfying aspects of my job,” Gretchen says. “It’s when I get to see what a real gift it is for families to have Hospice in their lives.” Because of her legacy, thousands of Kentuckians have received quality end-of-life care.

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