Here’s part four of our 40th Anniversary Reflections series celebrating our 40 years of care and service through Suncoast Hospice and Empath Health. It’s our honor to bring comfort to generations of families in our Tampa Bay community.
Q&A: Stacy Orloff, Ed. D., LCSW, ACHP-SW, Empath Health VP Innovation and Community Health
1. How long have you been working with Empath Health?
I’m in my 27th year.
2. What attracted you here?
I finished my master’s degree, got my license, had my private practice and was working part time for a social service agency. I had two small children and thought it was time to look for a daytime job with more steady hours. In graduate school I had a strong interest in pediatric oncology. One Sunday I looked at the classified ads and there was an opening in our pediatric program (formerly called the children and family support program). I knew two people who worked here and I came in and interviewed.
First I worked 20 hours a week as a care team counselor. It was perfect for me because it gave me flexibility with my chosen career and balancing my time at home with my kids. Three years later I was promoted to a full-time position as a coordinator of our pediatric program. I felt it was meant to be.
3. What was your work like then versus now?
When I started on our care team, we had nurses that only worked in nursing homes and others just in patients’ homes. All of our social workers, probably 20 of us for the whole organization, had one room in our building on East Bay Drive in Largo. When I started with the pediatric program, only a handful of us were located together and then we moved our desks to where the teams were. If you’re part of a team you need to live and work together. That’s how high-level teams develop trust and relationships.
We were licensed for home health but didn’t really have anyone in that service. And we didn’t have all of the HIV and many other services that we have today. Our willingness to make sure that the patient and family is at the center of all that we do, I think that’s truly what guides us. It meant that we had to evaluate, even the ways in which our teams were structured. We have to continue to be diligent in how we do things. We still want to provide access to care in all of the ways we’ve grown.
4. What are our greatest strengths as an organization?
Having innovative leaders who were willing to step out in ways in which nobody had before. They knew we were always more than just the Hospice Medicare Benefit. We always understood that the experience belonged to the patient and family and that we needed to listen and respond to the care they wanted to receive.
I’ve always been struck by the longevity of those who work here. We still have Mary Jean Etten, one of our founding volunteers, and other volunteers who have been serving with us for almost as long as our existence, and that’s really remarkable. We have immense support from the community. A lot of employees have stayed here a really long time and we want them to stay.
We’re open to identifying leadership. When I was on the care team as the counselor, our team coordinator had me lead some team meetings. That was exhilarating to me to have the opportunity to develop my leadership skills and that our leader was confident in us to do that. I’ve tried to pass on those opportunities to others. I just recently had a conversation with one of my direct reports who has a five-year plan, and I want to help her get there because I think that brings value to our organization. I’m really proud I’ve been able to play a part in developing skills of staff. It’s very rewarding to help them take the next steps to advance in their careers and pay back that help that I received for my success.
5. What impact do we make in the community?
We’re impacting many generations of families. I’ve spent almost all of my life in the pediatric world. Families that might have had their first touchpoint with their child come back to us for our services because they trust us. Both of my boys were teen volunteers and I think their perspective of life and death is different. They’ve both done their advance care planning and I think that’s because they’re comfortable having those conversations.
6. What do you enjoy about your leadership?
I’m grateful to have been given the opportunity to grow our pediatric program. That is very near and dear to me and great that we had leadership committed to our vision. It’s exciting that we’ve been able to grow programs that meet the needs of our community, whether for children, the HIV community, seniors or others.
7. What are your favorite memories?
I remember the very first child I cared for as a patient. He was about 10 years old, had HIV and didn’t die until he was well into his 20’s. His family kept in contact with me and, just before he died, they called me and put the phone up to his ear so I could say goodbye. I was really touched by that, it was a reflection of our work. I got a chance to speak at his service. Both of his parents have died within the last year and I was made aware of that, too. You never really know the impact we’re going to make on a family.
8. What keeps you here?
My mother-in law was one of our patients. I loved her and having that care experience with our hospice was very meaningful to me. I try not to lose sight of that. I’ve been out of the clinical side for almost 22 years, so I try to stay involved in different ways. I make home visits with staff or ask for information because I don’t want to forget that the decisions I’m making on my own or with others are affecting patients and families. My husband and I try to go to just about every event. I think it’s important for staff to see leadership come to things and to hear those stories.
It felt right when I started and it still does in terms of all the ways we’ve grown and changed. The core of who we are and what we do hasn’t changed. We’re still focused on the same thing – whoever it is we’re serving is in the center of everything we do and we truly say yes.
Have a special memory about your pediatric care or support from any of our other programs? Please share it below.