Empath Health is dedicated to caring for all ages in our community. We offer specialized pediatric care to comfort children and support parents, siblings and other family members.
Stacy Orloff, Ed. D., LCSW, ACHP-SW serves as Empath Health’s vice president of innovation and community health. She began in 1990 as a care team counselor for Suncoast Hospice, a member of Empath Health. Later she helped build and lead the pediatric care team, which continues to serve the unique needs of patients and families in their journeys.
Learn more about the history and impact of our pediatric care in this discussion with Orloff.
Q&A: Empath Health’s Stacy Orloff
How did you become interested in pediatric care?
When I was working on my master’s degree in social work I developed an interest in pediatric oncology and did research. There were two women in St. Pete who in their own way were trying to provide support for families, especially those who had children with cancer. I spent time with them and included them in my master’s degree work.
What did you first do with Suncoast Hospice?
I started 20 hours a week as a counselor on the Green Team. Three years later I was promoted to a full-time position as a coordinator of our pediatric program.
How did the pediatric program start?
Back in 1990 when we were caring for kids, whether it was a child who had a terminal illness or a child who was grieving a family member, we didn’t have a dedicated pediatric hospice care team. We relied on nursing staff from our home teams, including a few who had experience working with ill children.
We started trying to put some structure around the program, conceptualize services and hire people who had expertise meeting the needs of children and families. I wanted clinicians with knowledge and training in working with kids and families, child development and the family system.
At the time we were probably one of a few hospices in the country willing to make that commitment to hire experts in pediatric care, even though we knew our census would be much smaller than the adults. We were a shining light. It was nice to be a part of that because we were always there to help children have access to care.
How did the program grow?
One of the things I was most excited about was getting a dedicated pediatric nurse. Our first couple of nurses came from All Children’s Hospital, and that really made a difference because we weren’t relying solely on our teams who had other patient care. We were able to grow the program and our designated staff helped us work more closely with the staff at the hospital.
Another significant commitment our hospice made was hiring our own pediatric medical director under contract. That made a big difference. He came to all of our team meetings. If he didn’t participate in the admissions then he would make home visits to see every patient. He worked closely with our pediatric nurse and social worker. He was available to help with management of pain and symptoms and could call in prescriptions. I feel like our care increased significantly.
What local and national initiatives did you participate in?
Florida was the first state in the country to do Partners in Care: Together for Kids (PIC:TFK) through the Department of Health and Children’s Medical Services in 2004. The program provides palliative care support services for children and families. We helped train other organizations in the state and other state partnerships. I chaired the steering committee for more than 10 years. I was the only chair until we met all of our goals and became successful enough for the state to wrap it into other Medicaid programs.
We always have tried to lend our expertise and help others. We were able to do professional writing of articles published in clinical journals. One of our pediatric social workers and I participated in a large, multi-state research project studying fathers’ grief through the University of California San Francisco. We were the only hospice selected to participate in that national grant.
Who is on the team today?
We are a small team with our own pediatric nurse, social worker and medical director. I hired Sara Perszyk, our nurse, in 2001. She has been the longest on the team besides me. Our team relies on the assistance of spiritual care coordinators, home health aides and other staff on other teams.
Who do you care for today?
There are about 50 families in our care, including PIC:TKF, hospice and home health. They mainly are parents of young children. They haven’t had many experiences with death, and may never have heard about hospice because their parents might still be alive. It’s good that we have been able to provide care and that they might think about us when they have a need in the future.
Jane Parker and I started our perinatal loss program in 2004. It provides support from doula volunteers and counselors for families experiencing a pregnancy loss, death of a baby who is stillborn or birth of a baby who is not expected to live long after birth. If there’s a live birth of a baby then we can admit the baby into our hospice care. We are expanding into Mease Countryside and Morton Plant hospitals. We just had a training class with about a half dozen doula volunteers. They are a nice group of women and we are eager to keep moving.
What initiatives are you involved with today?
WellCare took over PIC:TFK in February. There is a lot of transition. I was asked to join a state group to work on it.
An Affordable Care Act provision allows children who meet the criteria for hospice care to concurrently receive curative treatment options and hospice care. We have fully implemented this as a state. I sit on a steering committee for National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization (NHPCO) and I was involved training state partners. For families, it’s incredibly helpful that they can receive our care or understand what we have to offer without having to give up curative care options.
We are here for you.
Learn more about our pediatric program online or call us at (727) 467-7423.
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