Being a leader in uneventful times takes focus and attention. Leading in times of chaos is a whole different thing. Nowadays, organizations all over the country hone their readiness for emergencies with “disaster drills” that prepare them to function in all manner of catastrophes; calamitous weather events, onsite shooter drills, and multi-casualty incidents like train wrecks or plane crashes.

But I live in Florida, home of the hurricanes, and I’m not talking about the University of Miami mascot. I’m talking about Michael, and Irma, and Andrew; storms that have brought such widespread and stunning devastation that it is difficult to describe in words.

I know that every part of the country is afflicted with some kind of natural disaster - wildfires and earthquakes out West, tornadoes on the Great Plains, and Snowmageddon-sized blizzards in the North - but for me, hurricanes mean autumn in Florida – a far cry from beautifully colored leaves gently drifting from the trees.

Recently, Hurricane Michael hit the Panhandle of Florida. It came together suddenly, and was the most powerful storm to ever hit that area. It wiped out the entire town of Mexico Beach and wreaked havoc across a broad swath of the southeast, going from Panama Beach all the way to Virginia.

My dear friends and colleagues in Tallahassee at Big Bend Hospice serve one of the state’s most rural areas in eight counties of northwest Florida; towns like Apalachicola, Carrabelle, and Spochoppy. The residents of towns are independent people living in remote areas, as their families have done for generations. Big Bend Hospice has made the pledge to serve those people, and does so with total commitment.

When a storm the size and magnitude of Michael hits, it takes powerful leadership to activate the plans that in the abstract seem so straightforward. It is a time of:

  • Action! All hands on deck; activating the staff and volunteer teams to move the frailest patients from homes at risk in the path of the storm
  • Split second decision-making to keep staff and patients safe when cell phone and even satellite phones don’t work
  • Innovative solutions to no power, no water and no access to medications
  • Confidence in the face of complete uncertainty
  • Inspiration to the staff that, “We will get through this!”
  • Continuous engagement, staying available to make decisions, give direction, encourage and support staff whose home are damaged or gone and who can’t get to work

The level of disorientation can be overwhelming when our routines are upended and the resources we take for granted are gone. Suddenly even the simplest things are a challenge; how to prepare meals, get ready for work and care for the kids without power, where to take a shower when your well water won’t work because there’s no juice to run your electric pump, even what roads you can drive on when your regular routes are closed.

This blog post from Rev. Candice McKibben sums up so much of the gratitude we all feel when someone in leadership steps up to help us in a time of crisis, to wrest order out of turmoil.

Everyone is unsettled in times of chaos, and confident, decisive, even-keeled, and heartfelt leaders the ones are we look to, to hold us together. Many blessings to Cathy Adkison, CEO, Gini West, Chief Clinical Officer, and Bill Wertman, Chief Operating Officer of Big Bend Hospice in Tallahassee, along with the leaders of Emerald Coast Hospice in Panama City and Covenant Hospice in Pensacola. You’re doing important work, and your communities are safer because of it.


The evolution of VR (virtual reality) technology is breathtakingly rapid, and I’m excited about its potential as a way to make our hospice patients’ end of life dreams come true. Read this, and you can see why I think it’s going to be a game-changer we’ll use to enrich the experiences of patients too frail to actually do the things they still wish they could have done – whether that’s traveling the world, walking on the moon, or swimming with dolphins:

HOLIDAY, Florida — Bill Gebhardt is swimming with dolphins. The 79-year-old is also sitting in a cozy chair in his Holiday home wearing Applied VR virtual reality goggles.

“Mercy!” Gebhardt says to his hospice aide, Malcolm. “If this isn’t reality, I don’t know what is!” Bill has a lung disease that hinders his breathing. But that is not going to stop him from also visiting Big Ben in London.

Gulfside Hospice is testing out the hi-tech gadget as a way to help patients deal with pain and achieve “bucket list” adventures. “They’re no longer able to do those dream things they wanted to do,” says Gulfside Hospice’s Carla Armstrong. “This allows them to still do it from the safety and comfort of their own home.”

I talked in my last blog post (you can read it here) about the crisis brewing because of the shortage of skilled nurses, and the issues I’m already hearing about as I travel the country visiting my clients. Here’s a sobering story with some of the statistics on the crisis that’s upon us. How are you and your organixstion dealing with the shortage of skilled nurses?

Obituaries provide such a fascinating window into the lives of those they celebrate. They can be simple and dignified, outrageous or funny, or, like this one, simply a gem of creativity and a labor of love. Read it and smile…


If your hospice community is potentially in the path of a hurricane, you need this: Florida Hospice & Palliative Care Association has published a Hurricane Preparedness Guide for use by hospice patients and caregivers. Download it, print it out and schedule a staff meeting to review it. You want everyone on the same page when disaster strikes.

Meanwhile, the excellent Florida Department of Elder Affairs is taking steps to prepare us to deal with a deluge of a different kind, via their Dementia Care and Cure Initiative Task Force. Did you know that Florida has the second highest rate of Alzheimer’s disease? We need to train caregivers and raise awareness – and that’s what this is all about:

“In Alachua County, more than 4,400 people, ages 65 and over, of the county’s 36,000 residents may be living with the disease. This is common with other counties in the state, especially those near central Florida. On top of that, over 1 million caregivers are taking care of those who are affected. By 2025, Florida is expected to have more than 720,000 people living with Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Association.

… Alachua County and the city of Gainesville became the ninth community in Florida, alongside others such as Miami, Sarasota and Tallahassee, to begin a Dementia Care and Cure Initiative task force. Brevard County would join the list in October. It would increase awareness of the different types of dementia, although Alzheimer’s disease is the most common, said Christine Didion, the program coordinator for the initiative at the Florida Department of Elder Affairs.”


Enjoy a sunset at the RiverCove Retreat Center

The Watershed Group
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