Avis’s story: Over 20 years of empowering patients and families

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Avis Queen photo for Grief and Growth

Avis Queen, Chesapeake Supportive Care Referral and Admissions Manager

With over 20 years at Hospice of the Chesapeake, Avis Queen has seen it all. She has held multiple roles at the organization and is passionate about helping individuals with life-limiting health conditions understand the benefits of supportive care and hospice. Avis shares her story of grief and growth: How she started working for the nonprofit and how her own journey with grief and loss inspires her work.

Click here to listen to Episode 1 of Season 2 of Grief from the Other Side. “Grief and Growth: Over 20 Years of Empowering Patients and Families”

 

Speaker 1:

“Grief from the Other Side,” where the bereavement experts at Chesapeake Life Center talk about living with loss, sharing stories of hope and resilience.

Amy  Stapleton:

Hi. I’m Amy Stapleton, manager of bereavement services here at the Chesapeake Life Center at Hospice of the Chesapeake. I’m here with my colleague, Tammy Turner.

Tammy Turner:

Hey, I’m Tammy Turner. I’m the community education manager for Hospice of the Chesapeake. And we’re starting this next group of interviews off. We’re looking and discussing roles here at Hospice of the Chesapeake and Chesapeake Supportive Care and talking to some of our staff and their… hearing their stories.

Amy  Stapleton:

Tammy, I really love this kind of season of this podcast because it really gets to the heart of the why. The why in what we do. Part of what I hope our clients and our families and our patients see and experience is the good care that we provide. But they often don’t get to know what’s behind the scenes or the stories that really inform the why of what we do. So being able to look kind of the inside out and hear the staff’s perspectives, I think just really is a rich experience.

Tammy Turner:

Yeah, I agree. So we’re going to be talking… You’re going to be talking with Avis, and Avis shares about her really long experience and all the different roles that she’s had here at Hospice of the Chesapeake.

Amy  Stapleton:

Avis, as you know, has served this agency and community so faithfully for what, over 20 years, right?

Tammy Turner:

20 years, yeah.

Amy  Stapleton:

She started as a CNA, as a Certified Nursing Assistant, and has worked in so many different capacities here, but really at each turn had just the best of intentions and hopes for each patient and family that she served. Wanting to accompany them through this process, wanting to make sure that people have access to the care they need from the very beginning. From the time of their diagnosis throughout the rest of their life.

Amy  Stapleton:

So, listening to Avis, I think you’ll hear really some of the heart of what we do at Hospice of the Chesapeake. She’s given her whole heart to this work. And I think that really comes through.

Tammy Turner:

All right, let’s take a listen.

Amy  Stapleton:

Avis, I am so excited to be talking to you. You’re one of my favorite people here at hospice.

Avis:

That’s so sweet.

Amy  Stapleton:

And one of the things that I love about you is just the wisdom and the history that you have, and you bring to this work, because you are all in. And I love that. You don’t just show up and dial it in nine to five. You’re all in, and you’ve seen so many different parts of this organization.

Avis:

So many.

Amy  Stapleton:

So let’s just start by introducing ourselves, and then we’ll get into our conversation.

Avis:

Okay. Well, thank you for having me, Amy. I am Avis Queen, and I have been with Hospice of the Chesapeake for 20 plus years.

Amy  Stapleton:

Oh my goodness!

Avis:

I started off as a CNA working on the road. And then, back that… During that time, we were building the Tate Hospice House rather in Linthicum and they needed employees. So I was one of the first employees to work at the Tate residential facility as a medicine aid, passing meds. And then I went on to be the intake… How would I say it? A data entry person way back when… I keep saying way back when, because the dates just… because it’s been so long. The nurses would have to enter, didn’t have computers back then to enter their admissions in for the admissions department. So this is when we were there up on Veterans Highway by the truck stop, and they would… So they would do everything on paper, and they would bring it back into the office and everything that they did on paper, I would enter those things into the system.

Avis:

So I had to read many handwritings, and it was just very hard. Then, after that, we… Hospice of the Chesapeake moved to 450 in Annapolis a couple of years after that. At that time, I became the intake supervisor and ran what we called our call center. I did that for a couple of years. And then in 2012, Hospice of the Chesapeake had a different vision where they wanted to do palliative care. So they collaborated with Anne Arundel Medical Center to provide palliative care there, inpatient. I then became the office manager, working with all of the nurse practitioners and everything like that. 2015, Anne Arundel wanted to do their own. So we then moved into the community and now Chesapeake Supportive Care, which was originally Chesapeake Palliative Medicine, is now serving almost 700 and some patients here in the community.

Amy  Stapleton:

Wow.

Avis:

So what I do now with Chesapeake Supportive Care is I oversee the referrals and admission.

Avis:

So I’m the manager in that department, and I manage three coordinators, and we talk to many different patients and families and referral sources about supportive care and the services that we offer and just our philosophy, and bring those patients on to be seen by our providers who then provide the supportive care services there in the community, assisted living, nursing homes, right here at our Hussman Supportive Care Center, where they have those goals of care conversations with the patients and families to help them through their journey.

Avis:

One thing that I love about supportive care is that we just don’t look at one part of the body, but we focus on the whole body. And we’re able to take… The providers are able to take all the information that they have about the patients and just put it all together to help those patients and families with what makes more sense. And then we’re also a big support to our referral sources in the community, especially the physicians in the community who really don’t have that amount of time to spend with their… With the patients’ families.

Avis:

So they call on us or rely on us to go and have those 70 plus minute conversations. So, that’s a little bit about what I do.

Amy  Stapleton:

Oh my goodness, that is such a tremendous resource to our community. Thank you. Thank you for offering that. And I will say as the manager of bereavement on the other side of that, I mean, I’m so proud that here at Hospice of the Chesapeake, that we really do care for the continuum of life. You do the upfront work with people who are just beginning this journey. And I think we see the difference that makes in their grief and in their processing their loss. And I’m just so grateful for you and for the gift that you are to Hospice and have been for so long.

Avis:

Yeah. I enjoy working with Hospice of the Chesapeake. Many people ask me all the time, “You’ve been there so long. What made you stay?” I don’t… It’s just… I just enjoy being able to help patients and families. Many don’t know about the services. So being able to be the one on the other end to give them that information… It gives me joy, and at night when I lay down that I’ve helped someone.

Amy  Stapleton:

And I also hear, I mean, the fact that you started as a CNA, you’re connected to people at the very basic level of who they are. As you said, you’re seeing a whole person. You’re not just, “push a paper.” You’re not just disconnected from their process. You’re seeing a whole person and a whole family in need, and really reaching out to meet them where they are.

Avis:

Yeah. Yeah, being a CNA really helps you to be able to see… You can come in as a clinical person, but never worked as a CNA before. But like you said, I’ve seen it from the beginning. So I know exactly what these patients and families go through, and I know what it looks like.

Amy  Stapleton:

Yeah. And again, what a gift to every part of this process. So thank you.

Avis:

You’re welcome.

Speaker 1:

What is lost?

Amy  Stapleton:

You’ve already mentioned kind of some of the jobs that you’ve had, how long you’ve been here, but I’m curious about what kind of got you into this work. What was the… Was there a loss or a death in your own life, or what kind of brought you to this hospice working world?

Avis:

Well, let me just go back a little bit. I had some deaths when I… Younger, my great-grandfather. And then my grandmother, and again, I can’t put a year on that, had passed away due to ovarian cancer. And she utilized the services of Hospice of the Chesapeake, but I knew nothing about Hospice of the Chesapeake then. Then I went to… on to be a nursing assistant working in the nursing homes. But then I… There was a job for hospice. So I was like, “I can do that.” I saw how the aides were coming into the facilities and caring for the patients. But I really don’t… I guess it’s just a gift. I’m just going to say it’s a gift from God that I have this.

Avis:

My dad, they always said, “You’re so compassionate.” And I just think that it just does something that I just grew on me. I mean, I don’t-

Amy  Stapleton:

So it also sounds though that… Like you’re pretty comfortable with death.

Avis:

Yeah.

Amy  Stapleton:

Yeah. And I think about… Not everybody can say that. That is a really special gift. And so shout out to all the CNAs out there, people doing the work at the very… At the bedside, right?

Avis:

Yeah.

Amy  Stapleton:

But I also think for a powerful African-American woman, you’re helping shape this conversation and so many communities. And the fact that from a very early age, it sounds like you were just willing to step into it and did it with your heart, first of all. That’s really, really cool. Was there a loss? You mentioned a few, but was there a loss that really stayed with you from your childhood, or kind of a loss that maybe, I don’t know, within yourself kind of prompted this desire to serve in this way?

Avis:

Yeah. One of my other grandparents, and I think about her all the time, she had had… When I was younger, had many strokes and things like that. And I don’t… I feel, and I always say to myself, I wish then I knew what I know now, because I could have helped my family with my grandmother and maybe she could have lived a little bit longer with nursing homes and things like that. So right now, I can… I help my families. I’ve had plenty of family members with Hospice of the Chesapeake and God in them, and… But I always think about… I was really close to her. And if I was a little bit older and was working then and knew what I know now, that I could really have really helped. And I feel like she could have probably lived much longer than she did.

Amy  Stapleton:

And I imagine that that kind of drives you now when you see people in a similar position.

Avis:

Oh yes.

Amy  Stapleton:

I want to make sure people have access to care.

Avis:

Oh yeah. I do it all the time with my family. I want to make sure they have access to the care, and they’ll call on me now.

Amy  Stapleton:

Yeah. I know, it’s kind of like an occupational hazard. We have, I think… People are, “Do you have any copies of The Five Wishes?”

Avis:

Right!

Amy  Stapleton:

You’re the one at Thanksgiving dinner, and you’re like, “Is everybody… You’ve got this in place, right? While we’re all together, let’s just have a talk.”

Avis:

Right, I do this all the time. And then my sisters, they joke with me. They’re like, “Uh-oh, here she comes, sent by Hospice!”

Amy  Stapleton:

“Here she comes!”

Avis:

And… Or “Palliative Care,” or “Supportive Care,” and my father’s… He’s out there talking to people, and he’s out here marketing to… “Just call my daughter. She can help you.” So, yeah.

Amy  Stapleton:

Yeah.

Avis:

So. And it’s… It gives me joy just to be able to help.

Amy  Stapleton:

Yeah. And I think that, again, you’re such a powerful witness because you have relationships in the community that people trust what you say, and that goes far. You’ve seen the work, but you’ve also… You have some credibility when it comes to being able to share with people this resource. And-

Avis:

And I tell them all the time, “I’m not just saying it just to say that I’m… I’ve… Or just because I had it. I’ve used the service myself, both services. So I’m just not saying it just to say it, to get people to… “Come on to be with Hospice of the Chesapeake.” No no no. I’ve used the service myself, and it speaks for itself. So yeah.

Amy  Stapleton:

What a tremendous witness.

Speaker 1:

What remains?

Amy  Stapleton:

So, like, I know a little bit about you. I know that you have two daughters who are in the medical field.

Speaker 5:

Three.

Amy  Stapleton:

Three!

Speaker 5:

I have three in the medical field.

Amy  Stapleton:

Oh my goodness. So obviously you’re an inspiration to them, and they’ve seen you kind of move through this process. How do you think your own personal experiences have influenced kind of what you do every day, and how do you think maybe that’s influenced your daughters?

Avis:

It has allowed me to… I guess I’m going to say this, right? Give the gifts that I have used to use my gifts. Okay? My gifts of, I guess, compassion. I feel that I’m a compassionate person. It has, let me use my gifts, my communication, my compassion. And I have passed that on down to my daughters. Now I never thought that… If it would be that way, but it has and just this year, it’s shown.

Amy  Stapleton:

Wow.

Avis:

Or it’s been showing they’ve been right with me, my daughters, throughout this hospice journey, really. I used to drag them with me to work. And so I just think that… Just my compassion.

Amy  Stapleton:

Yeah.

Avis:

Did I answer that right?

Amy  Stapleton:

Yeah. Yeah, in terms of what you bring is this compassionate heart, and I think your daughters have seen that and no doubt been inspired by that and will bring that to their own places of service. That’s really awesome. Can you think back to a time when maybe you were working with a family or an individual that were receiving hospice services, and… Was there a moment when either you connected at a personal level or something, and their story kind of intersected with your own story?

Avis:

I had a close friend that had hospice, and she was in her thirties. So that kind of was different for me. Cause she… Again, a close friend, and she had the services of Hospice of the Chesapeake and she would call them. That kind of affected me a little bit differently than if an older grandparent and things like that, because I know that death is going to happen. We’re all gonna die one day. But that, with my girlfriend, that affected me differently. And it still does. I’m not going to say that I’m real hardcore now because I do think about her, and she was calling on me knowing that I was in the intake department and asking me many questions about “What does… What is this hospice going to look like?” And things like that. And she was admitted to General Inpatient at Baltimore Washington, and our GIP nurse at the time had called me to say, “Avis, you need to come.” And seeing that was a little bit different for me. And it’s-

Amy  Stapleton:

Yeah, it’s hard to shift kind of in and out of that role.

Avis:

Yeah. That was different than seeing my grandfather.

Amy  Stapleton:

Yeah, yeah.

Avis:

I guess because she was in her thirties, and it was just… That one hit me hard. Yeah.

Amy  Stapleton:

Yeah. Understandably. And it’s not always easy to kind of take that hat off, right?

Avis:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amy  Stapleton:

Of a role or whatever we’re… our job is to-

Avis:

Right.

Amy  Stapleton:

I mean, we’re human at our heart, right?

Avis:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amy  Stapleton:

And losing someone very close to you, witnessing that, you can’t help but feel that.

Avis:

Right. So when I see the young people in their twenties and their thirties come over, because like I always tell everyone, this is not… It’s just not old people. These are young people. And I mean, it’s… I get many referrals of young people in their thirties, in their twenties… So when I see things like that, it strikes up that… Brings up that remembrance. You know what I mean? And I think of her. So that right there, that’s hard. That’s one for me.

Amy  Stapleton:

Yeah. Yeah. It makes sense. Makes total sense.

Speaker 1:

What’s next?

Amy  Stapleton:

As someone who’s kind of been working for hospice a long time, what is it that you wish people knew about hospice, or even understood about grief and loss?

Avis:

That hospice is not just about dying. It’s about quality of care and that you don’t have to be afraid of it. You know? And grief. I mean, grief and loss. It’s going to happen. My father and I always go back to my parents. I don’t know why, but when my grandfather, for instance, when my grandfather was passing away, and my dad said, “We’re not going to cry. We’re going to rejoice.” You know? And that’s what I think I get… I think of that, that it’s a rejoicing time. And everybody grieves differently. Everybody looks at death differently, but I would say that hospice is nothing to be scared about. It’s not-

Amy  Stapleton:

Yeah. Sometimes, people… It’s kind of like when you’re sitting… When we could sit on airplanes… You’re sitting on the airplane, people ask you what you do, right?

Avis:

I’ve had that before!

Amy  Stapleton:

What did you tell them?

Avis:

I just… I had this older man that was sitting next to me, and we were talking… Oh my goodness, let me just tell you. He said, “Yeah, my wife passed away, and she’s under the plane.” Oh my goodness.

Amy  Stapleton:

People tell you all kinds of things.

Avis:

Yeah, all kinds of things. And then it… There’s the conversation, then it strikes up. And then, “Oh, you work for hospice,” or “You’re full of… So compassionate.” So, but then some people be like, “Ooh!” They see you coming. “You worked for hospice? Oh Lord!”

Amy  Stapleton:

I love how you said that though, that… I think one of the challenges that we have, and that we’re really working to kind of dispel the myth, is that hospice means death. Because it really… Not only does it mean quality of care. I think it means quality of life.

Avis:

Quality of care. Quality of life. Exactly. Yeah. I mean, I’ve had family members that said that, “Oh, you’re giving out that morphine.”

Amy  Stapleton:

And it’s not that at all.

Avis:

Yeah, it’s not that at all. And then when people come on to hospice, and when you have… When you sit there and you explain hospice or supportive care to them, they’d be like, “Oh wow.”

Amy  Stapleton:

Yeah. “I didn’t know I had access to all that.”

Avis:

Right. “I didn’t know I had… Medicare covers that?” You know, I’ve had that before, “Medicare covers that?” When I was… Be explaining hospice services.

Amy  Stapleton:

I think one… Another thing that sometimes I hear from the bereavement side, it’s like, “People wait too long.” Right?

Avis:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amy  Stapleton:

And then it’s kind of a critical urgent situation, and they don’t get the benefit of palliative care, hospice care. It’s kind of a last minute decision where I think so much of what you’re offering to people is an opportunity to begin that conversation earlier. That’s really going to make a difference.

Avis:

Right. With the supportive care.

Amy  Stapleton:

Yeah.

Avis:

Right. And anyone can benefit from supportive care. And it starts as soon as the diagnosis is made, so anyone can benefit from it. There’s nothing to be afraid about. There’s conversations there. We want to be there to have that… Those hard conversations that the primary care physicians can’t really… I’m not going to say “can’t really do,” but they can’t because they’re really busy. So, they call on us to do it. So we want to be there to talk about your goals of care and help you with your advanced directives and things-

Amy  Stapleton:

This is what you’re good at. Right.

Avis:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. And navigating the healthcare system.

Amy  Stapleton:

Exactly.

Avis:

That’s what we do. We help them navigate the healthcare system. I mean, our whole team does, from the coordinators on down to the nurses of our team and the social workers.

Amy  Stapleton:

And I love that at the end of the day, I feel like we’re giving people choices. There’s a lot in life that we don’t have a choice about. But this is something that we can inform our family, our physicians, our community, about what we want for as much as we can share and have choice in. So, tremendous work that you’re doing, Avis.

Avis:

Thank you.

Amy  Stapleton:

Finally, I guess you mentioned this earlier, but everybody’s grief journey is different. Nothing looks the same for any of us. Is there anything personally or professionally that you would just say to somebody out there experiencing loss or maybe even considering supportive care, or who… Someone who’s just maybe received a diagnosis and doesn’t know where to turn or what to do? What would you say to folks?

Avis:

I would give them… Explain to them what supportive care is, our philosophy of supportive care and that it’s… You’re not giving up anything, but to… You can benefit from the services, but also utilize your Medicare benefit. I always tell people that it has… There’s a lot around that. So, utilize that. I mean, you’re not giving up anything. Just like if you come onto hospice, you can always sign off.

Amy  Stapleton:

You’re actually getting more.

Avis:

You’re getting more. Yeah. So.

Amy  Stapleton:

Avis, I think specifically about the young people and what you’ve shared, not only about your friend accessing these services, but your… That special place in your heart for young people who also have the need for supportive care, who are being diagnosed all the time. What would you say to them specifically about what we can offer, or maybe just… Sometimes receiving a diagnosis is the beginning of a grief process for them. What would you say to them?

Avis:

Supportive care can… We sit down, we look at the medical history from the beginning to now. They can help you navigate the healthcare system, the questions that you’re not getting answered. They can help you answer those questions, they can work along with your primary care physician and any other specialist that’s involved in your care. It’s… We take all insurances, and we will be there with you throughout this journey. We will help you go through whatever you need. If you need Meals on Wheels, we have a social worker who can help you with that. If you need blood drawn, we can get your blood drawn, but we will be there for you as a support. And that’s what we are, we’re… So that’s why we call ourselves supportive care. And then if you’re having symptoms that are manageable, our providers are experts in symptom management. So you’ll never be alone because we’re there for you. We’re here for you Monday through Friday, and on the weekends as well.

Amy  Stapleton:

I think, just to wrap up, what a powerful message that is that you’ll never be alone no matter where you are in this journey, even at the beginning, or throughout this journey that we’ll walk with you. I love the image. And sometimes I often say, “We all need a team.”

Avis:

Right.

Amy  Stapleton:

And so how great it is to be able to be a team for people at some of the most vulnerable times in their lives. They don’t know where to turn. So, thank you for stepping in and stepping up-

Avis:

Oh. You’re welcome.

Amy  Stapleton:

…and just being such an awesome team member. I love working with you.

Avis:

Thank you. Yeah. And I would just add to that, it’s a joy when our patients call in and they say… One lady called in the other day. She was in… She thought she had hung the phone up, but she really didn’t. She says, “I just love those people.” She said, “I just love those people.” So it’s… That brings you joy that you’ve… Just helping them. And it’s just… Being there for me, we’ve got some great… We have a great team. We have an excellent team. So.

Amy  Stapleton:

So yeah, at the end of the day, it kind of goes back to where you started. Right?

Avis:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Amy  Stapleton:

It’s being there for people, showing up with compassion. It’s being able to help, and what a gift. So thank you, Avis, for taking time to talk to us today.

Avis:

Oh, you’re welcome.

Amy  Stapleton:

I appreciate everything about you.

Avis:

Oh, thank you, Amy.

Amy  Stapleton:

Thanks for just serving the Hospice of the Chesapeake and its patients and families so well for so long.

Avis:

Well, thank you. I appreciate it.

Amy  Stapleton:

All right, take good care.

Avis:

All right, thank you.

Speaker 1:

“Grief from the Other Side” podcast is made possible thanks to the generous support from the John & Cathy Belcher Institute. For more information on grief and loss services, visit chesapeakelifecenter.org, or call 888-501-7077.

 

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