Get to Know Your AAHCM Leaders
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Get to Know Denise Stahl, MSN FPCN

Regional Vice President, Clinical Operations Aspire Health, Inc.

Board Chair, Hospice and Palliative Nurses Foundation

Trainer, EPEC and ELNEC

Member, Coalition for Quality at End of Life (Pennsylvania) 

Ms. Stahl is an Oncology Clinical Nurse Specialist with more than 25 years of experience working in hospice and palliative care. In her role as Regional Vice President for Aspire Health she supports development and sustainability of community-based palliative care programs in the Northeast region of the U.S.  She is currently board Chair for the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Foundation and is a widely recognized EPEC and ELNEC trainer for clinicians and providers working in end of life care and is known locally, regionally and nationally for her expertise in palliative care. She is also actively involved in the local and national community as an advocate for all issues related to improving care for persons with serious illness and an active member of the Coalition for Quality at End of Life in Pennsylvania.

Previously, Ms. Stahl served as the Chief Clinical Officer of Palliative Care at Optum and as Executive Director of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s Palliative and Supportive Institute. She has taught in the Schools of Nursing and Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, the Community College of Allegheny County, as well as many other schools of nursing in Western PA.  Ms. Stahl is Past-President of the Hospice and Palliative Credentialing Center (formerly known as the National Board for Certification of Hospice and Palliative Nurses), past-Chair of the Board of Trustees for the Alliance for Excellence in Hospice and Palliative Nursing, and past chair of the Joint Strategy Council for the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Foundation, Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association and Hospice and Palliative Credentialing Center.

Denise joined the AAHCM board in late 2018.

We recently spoke with Ms. Stahl about her experiences.

How did you become involved with the field of home care medicine?

I’ve been a caregiver since I was a very young child. I was fortunate to live with my grandparents throughout my childhood. As they aged and suffered with consequences of serious chronic illness, I saw how important it was to have resources in the home and how necessary home caregiving is. I can remember one very specific moment with my Gram as we prepared to take her back to the hospital yet another time. She told me she didn’t want to go. I then asked, “then why are you?”. Her response was “because there’s no other option.” Looking back, that was an “ah ha” moment for me. I’ve never thought about doing anything else but palliative care since and I believe that good care is really ALL about community. 

How has working in this field impacted your practice? What keeps you in the field?

While I don’t have a direct practice of my own in my current role, I have the privilege of supporting a practice of physicians, advanced practice providers, and social workers every day. Much of my career was spent in hospital-based practices, and until I immersed myself in community, I thought we were all doing okay in preparing patients and families for what to expect after discharge. I worked in bone marrow transplant when the hospital stays often exceeded 100 days. We’d send patients home after small celebrations before discharge. No one ever told us the patient often came back daily for weeks for blood products, etc. We assumed life resumed as usual after those patients when home. My eyes have surely since opened as I now see that it’s the care and services that our patients and families receive in the community that makes the most difference and means the most to patients and families. It is such a privilege to be invited into a patient’s home and to actually see and feel their story. Conversations about serious illness, values, and goals related to living and dying make so much more sense around the kitchen table or front porch. The connection to what matters most to others is what keeps me invested in this work and keeps me advocating to change the system to support more home care medicine.  

Why AAHCM?  What drives your involvement?

I’ve been active with the hospice and palliative nursing/medicine organizations for decades. As I’ve enjoyed that service and the relationships I’ve developed therein, I’ve also been watching the field evolve and have seen that there’s not enough capacity for specialty palliative care to take on the needs of community. We’ve got to branch out and embrace more opportunities for primary palliative care. Additionally, the specialty has its roots in hospital-based medicine and hospice. Most patients with serious illness will spend more time at home, in community, with years of support needs that I worry we aren’t quite meeting or even fully understanding. I love that AAHCM focuses on care in community and is helping to drive the future in this regard. I want to be a part of that revolution.   

How did you start?  What advice can you offer to a person considering volunteering with AAHCM?

I’m a big supporter of volunteer service and board work. In my other roles on healthcare boards, I’ve had the opportunity to meet so many amazing clinicians and thought leaders. I’ve had the privilege of listening and learning and the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of giants. I often wonder if my career would have taken a different turn without these opportunities. Volunteer service also has helped cultivate leadership skills for me. Contributing to decisions that are for the greater good is a passion of mine. Board work offers a lot of opportunities in that regard. And, of course, we all need a succession plan as the workforce evolves and retirement looms for many of us. 



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