Empath Health Community Outreach Specialist Kelly Siegel

To best serve everyone in our community, we build strong partnerships to listen to what’s most needed. Here in Pinellas County, we’re home to the second largest Jewish population in Florida. We aim to create many opportunities for partnerships and support end-of-life care and other service needs of the Jewish community.

Partnering with the Community

Our Empath Health Community Outreach Specialist Kelly Siegel is working with affiliated and unaffiliated Jewish populations to increase engagement, education and access to our integrated network of care. As a Jewish convert, Siegel has a personal understanding and experience of Jewish beliefs and traditions. She’s committed to connecting Empath Health member organizations, Jewish congregations, community agencies and long-term care and residential facilities.

“When I’m working with the Jewish community, I think about my faith teachings. Very important things are kindness, which we refer to as chesed, and charity, which could mean giving money or volunteering time. Community partnerships don’t always have to mean investing money. We can look at ways to work together and pool our resources,” Siegel said.

One important partnership she has helped develop is our Jewish Community Advisory Council of representatives from temples, synagogues and other organizations throughout Pinellas County. The council provides insight, guidance and support to help us better serve the Jewish population.

Some of the congregations’ initiatives have included presenting Hospice Shabbats with featured guest speaker Empath Health Vice President of Innovation and Community Health Stacy Orloff; hosting a Suncoast Hospice community memorial service for those who’ve lost loved ones; sharing information on Empath Health volunteer opportunities; and attending our first Suncoast Hospice Faith Community Conference last November. Additional fundraising, resource-sharing, disease education and other efforts are being explored.

Siegel’s also planning to team with our Suncoast Hospice Director of Spiritual Care Jim Andrews to make more connections with the Orthodox community. “I think there’s a large Orthodox population here. I hope Jim and I can go to meet with local rabbis to find out if there’s anything specific they need or want us to do for that community,” she said.

End-of-Life Care and Accreditation

In hospice care, we tend to our patients’ whole well-being. Our teams treat patients’ pain, honor their cultural and spiritual beliefs and carry out their care according to their wishes.

Our hospice was reaccredited for the National Institute for Jewish Hospice Accreditation last November. Siegel and Suncoast Hospice Spiritual Care Coordinator Mathew Thomas attended the national conference in Newark, N.J. Training included medical ethics, spirituality, conversations and other topics related to caring for Jewish patients and families at the end of life. The two now provide training to our spiritual care coordinators and care teams.

The Jewish community and hospice share common philosophies about death and dying, Siegel explained. “Two similarities are kindness and the definition of suffering. Like hospice, the Jewish community believes in taking care of suffering at the end of life; that suffering isn’t solely physical but emotional, too.”

Like many communities, there’s large diversity among the Jewish community. Our teams must meet each patient’s unique needs.

“The Jewish community is very diverse with different beliefs. We have Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist/Reform, Hasidic and others. With the Orthodox, the men will want to have a male nurse because unless they’re married to a woman, they can’t touch the opposite sex. Also, they believe that the soul isn’t released and cleansed until burial, so the body shouldn’t be washed. A funeral home typically is called in quickly, there’s a body-cleansing ritual and the body is buried usually within three days. When someone’s actively dying, that person shouldn’t be left alone. We may need volunteers to come and stay with our dying Jewish patients at our Suncoast Hospice Care Centers. I’m working with our teams to teach them about this culture,” Siegel said.

Healthcare Decisions: Shining Light on Living Wills

Another main focus for Siegel is her work with the Florida Hospice and Palliative Care Association’s (FHPCA) first research support grant aimed at increasing the Jewish community’s participation in advance care planning. It was awarded to our hospice last October.

According to FHPCA, there’s a nation-wide low participation rate with Jewish communities doing advance care planning, which includes completing living wills and other advance directives conveying people’s medical care wishes. Siegel shared, “We’re going to identify barriers to the Jewish community, report our year-long findings to FHPCA, develop best practices and possibly publish articles.”

As part of the grant, Siegel will facilitate a series of advance care planning workshops targeted toward the Jewish community. They will be held March 15 at 9 a.m. at The Inn on the Pond in Clearwater; March 22 at 11 a.m. at Congregation B’nai Israel of St. Petersburg; and May 17 at 11 a.m. at Gulf Coast Jewish Family & Community Services in Clearwater.

Well experienced as a certified Respecting Choices® facilitator, Siegel has made more than 100 advance care planning presentations to the community-at-large at libraries, people’s homes and other locations, including Largo Medical Center in Largo and Creekside Manor in Clearwater.

“I talk with groups and one-on-one, provide our Empath Choices for Care free living will materials and do follow-up meetings to find out where people are in the process. It’s something that a lot of people don’t want to talk about. And some people don’t want to do it on their own or need help with the wording. It’s a gift to your family,” she said.

Join a Workshop

Interested in attending an upcoming advance care planning workshop in support of our research with the Jewish community? Please call Kelly Siegel for information and registration at (727) 523-4194.