The California Hospice and Palliative Care Association (CHAPCA) has decided to honor Madalon O’Rawe Amenta with the Pierre Salmon Award during the association’s annual conference in Palm Springs this October. The award is CHAPCA’s equivalent to the hospice hall of fame in California and Nevada. Amenta will be traveling to the conference with Yolo Hospice staff to accept the award.
Amenta was an early American voice in the hospice movement. Not too many decades ago quality standards for hospice care did not exist. Clinicians had no national standards and no official guidelines to follow. Four California nurses worked together on what would become the country’s first set of quality assurance manuals. When they were finished cobbling together guides that could be used by hospice nurses everywhere, they handed their work over to Amenta, the first president of the Hospice & Palliative Nurses Association (HPNA), the association that certifies nurses in the field.
Amenta took the work of these four nurses and spread it out on her dining room table where she spent the next six weeks pulling together Quality Assurance for Hospice Patient Care. First published in 1988, the manual served as the go-to standard for hospice nurses. Each page represented a framework that is still used by hospice professionals today. Amenta remembers, “We sold it for $25 a copy. As an organization, we had no money in the early days. Our only source of income came from charging $35 for membership fees and there were fewer than 100 members.” Now, nearly 12,000 members belong to the association.
As well as being a founder of the Hospice & Palliative Nurses Association, Amenta was a founder of the Pennsylvania Hospice Network. She was also the director of education and research at Forbes Hospice, and later co-authored Nursing Care of the Terminally Ill, the first American textbook on hospice care. She has received numerous national and education honors in recognition of her caring work, including HPNA’s Leading the Way Award, the University of Pittsburgh’s Distinguished Alumni Award, and Yale University’s Distinguished Alumnus Award.
“From my first nursing student days I felt that the American health care system, for all its wonders of technology, failed patients as people,” according to Amenta. “It didn’t deal with the meaning of illness or the consequences of treatment. It needed to be reformed. Caring as well as curing needed to become institutionalized.”
Years later, out of a deep engagement of working on the book, Nursing Care for the Terminally Ill, she concluded that the essence of hospice care is found in a spiritual dimension, the source of love and caring. She says, “According to Saint John, ‘work is love,’ and according to Khalil Gibran, ‘work is love made visible,’ and according to me, hospice work is love made operational.”