Kalinowski reflects on 22 years with Hospice

Jan. 14, 2013 @ 05:06 PM

In the nonprofit sector, where even the most passionate employees sometimes burn out, Leslie Kalinowski is a rare breed.
The president and chief executive officer of Hospice of the Piedmont has held that position for more than 22 years, an eternity in nonprofit work.
Today, though, as Kalinowski closes in on her retirement — she made the official announcement today — the 62-year-old High Point woman is quick to credit those around her for her longevity in what can be a very difficult field of work.
“I think what has kept me going is the fact that I work with some amazing people,” Kalinowski says. “They’re amazing to be able to do what they do day in and day out. I’ve also learned a whole lot from the families we serve and the strength they show us. Hospice has an extremely supportive environment — the people who work here are very special people who support each other. We laugh a lot and we cry a lot, and we understand the importance of each day.”
Kalinowski joined Hospice of the Piedmont in November 1990, after serving as an aging and adult services director in Florida. Considering Hospice was established in 1981, she’s been at the helm for two-thirds of the agency’s existence, during which she has overseen significant changes.
In the mid-1990s, for example, she led the drive for Hospice to purchase the former Martin Twin Theatres on Westchester Drive and convert the building into the agency’s first permanent home — a home the agency moved into in 1997 and one it still occupies today.
“We smelled popcorn for years,” Kalinowski says with a chuckle. “But it was wonderful to move into our own building, and the community was so supportive in giving us the funds to renovate it.”
Nearly a decade later, in 2006, Hospice of the Piedmont unveiled the results of another major capital campaign — a 14-bed inpatient facility, called Hospice Home at High Point, that had been on Kalinowski’s wish list as far back as the mid-1990s. The facility is designed for terminally ill patients who cannot remain at home, with an emphasis on making patients feel as if they’re in more of a home than a medical unit.
“Hopefully, people will not feel like they’re walking into an institution,” Kalinowski said when the facility opened in July 2006. “We want it to be as homey as possible. ... This is not a place that’s about dying. It’s a place
about living ... and making it the best that it can be.”
The facility has been an overwhelming success.
“We maintain a huge waiting list,” Kalinowski says. “Every day we have people needing to get in that we can’t admit.”
That’s why Kalinowski now finds herself in the midst of her third major capital campaign, a drive to build a four-room addition to Hospice Home at High Point. That facility is scheduled to be completed in March.
The demand for an inpatient facility, Kalinowski says, is a reflection of how the demographics of society have changed.
“When I started with Hospice in 1990, there were a lot more women at home and a lot more families who lived around other family members, so they were able to have family caregivers,” she says. “But that has changed. Now, not everyone has someone to care for them in their home, so Hospice Home is one more resource to be able to reach out to people and provide end-of-life care at the appropriate time.”
Another thing that’s changed over the pass 22 years is the public’s understanding of what Hospice of the Piedmont actually does.
“There’s much more understanding of what Hospice is all about and how it can help people,” Kalinowski says. “Hospice is so much more than medical care. It’s spiritual and social support. We have a kids’ counseling center for kids who have had a loss and are having difficulty dealing with it. We have a grief counseling center that’s available for anybody, not just families of our patients.”
The agency’s patient care has been significantly impacted by reams of new health-care regulations, and plenty more are on the way, Kalinowski believes.
“But I think the heart of what we were 22 years ago is still here,” she says, “and that’s taking care of people, which is what we do best.”
When Kalinowski says “we,” that means volunteers, too, who are vital to what the agency does. Volunteers perform all sorts of tasks to make Hospice of the Piedmont a better, more efficient organization. Some even volunteer to sit with patients who have no family members, so they won’t have to be alone when they die.
“How can you not love working with someone like that?” she says.
For her part, Kalinowski says the job has been a great fit.
“I’ve loved it from the minute they offered me the job,” she says. “...And if I thought I had 10 more years to give, I’d still be here.”
jtomlin@hpe.com | 888-3579

Stepping down

Leslie Kalinowski, who has served as president and chief executive officer of Hospice of the Piedmont since November 1990, has announced her retirement.
Her successor, Trent Cockerham, officially begins work today, but Kalinowski will remain on the job for a few more weeks to assist with the transition of leadership.