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February 4, 2016

Embarking on new Dimensions
Danvers Herald

“One of the thing’s I’ve learned from this work is that life is precious, time passes, and it’s just time.”

That was how Diane Stringer, the president and CEO of the Danvers-based Care Dimensions, announced she would be retiring later this year.

Stringer, a longtime resident of Wenham before moving to Gloucester a few years ago, made the announcement last week but has said she will stay on until the Care Dimensions board of directors has found a replacement.

“We accept Diane’s decision to retire with sadness and a tremendous amount of respect for her exceptional leadership and vision,” said Pamela Lawrence, chairman of the board. “Her passion for helping people and for organizational excellence drove her to transform what was a grass-roots volunteer effort into a national leader in providing comprehensive, compassionate end-of-life care.”

The board has organized a search committee and retained a search firm, Stringer said during a recent interview at the Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers.

“It’s probably going to take six to nine months to identify someone and to bring that person on board. And I’ll stay until that happens, and I’ll help with the transition,” she said.

Whoever that is will join a nonprofit health-care organization with 430 employees, more than 400 volunteers, the Kaplan House and the Bertolon Center for Grief and Healing, both in Danvers, as well as inpatient hospice units with Beverly Hospital and Emerson Hospital in Concord.

“Diane is leaving a tremendous legacy — the organization is in a very strong position and she’s built a great team and staff,” said Lawrence. “Now it’s the board’s responsibility to find the right person to fill the impossible-to-fill position.”

Organization grows

All that didn’t exist in 1989, when Stringer joined Hospice of the North Shore, which was the organization’s original name.

Stringer was the third employee hired by the group. All were part-time employees.

“The organization was basically all volunteers,” Stringer said. “There was no Medicare reimbursement or payment for services. We were totally reliant on fundraising and community support in those days.”

Patricia Comeau-Simonson, who served as a hospice volunteer for 12 years and eight years as the Bereavement Program coordinator for Care Dimension’s Bertolon Center for Grief & Healing, described Stringer “a woman with a vision.”

“I always admired the fact that she had started her career as a nurse but saw the need for hospice care in the community and worked hard to make her vision a reality,” said the Ipswich resident.

At the time, hospice care was a new idea, at least in the United States. Hospice care seeks to provide palliative care rather than curative treatment to life-limiting illnesses. Hospice offers emotional and spiritual comfort for the dying as well as support for family members.

Palliative care provides comfort and relief for patients who are in pain but not ready for hospice care.

“I was hired to help the organization make a transition from effectively all volunteers,” said Stringer, “to being eligible for Medicare reimbursement, to being licensed by the (state) Department of Public Health so we could provide more comprehensive services and hire clinical staff — nurses, social workers, chaplains. So that was a big transition for the organization.”

The organization faced many more transitions during Stringer’s 27 years as its leader.

Care Dimensions built the state’s first licensed hospice inpatient facility, the 20-bed Kaplan House, on Liberty Street.

“What’s changed is, I would say hospice has become much more accepted and integrated into the continuum of health care,” Stringer said. “Palliative care has become growing field and one that is recognized. Pretty much every hospital has a palliative-care component or service.”

“There’s just greater awareness that good care in life’s final months is not intensive care,” said Stringer. “It’s not necessarily being in a hospital with lights flashing and tubes and beeping and all of that stuff. So there is greater awareness (that) hospice is the gold standard for care at the end of life.”

Stringer led the effort to expand access to hospice care in the state by urging the passage of legislation that all insurers must include hospice care as a covered benefit in 1995 and to allow hospice inpatient facilities, separate from hospitals in 2002.

Becoming Care Dimensions

A big change for the Hospice of the North Shore came in 2011 when it doubled the number of communities it was serving after acquiring Partners Hospice.

The result was a name change to Hospice of the North Shore and Greater Boston. But that proved too unwieldy. So in 2014 the name was changed to Care Dimensions.

The name change “was driven largely by our expanded geography after we acquired Partners Hospice in 2011 and our service area moved beyond the North Shore,” said Stringer. “But it was also that the organization provides more than just hospice care.”

Care Dimensions also offers a number of grief support services, including support groups.

“We have a big role in both education of health-care professionals and the lay community about care at the end of life,” said Stringer, “about advance-care planning and the importance of making your wishes known before there is a crisis, before you are confronted with a devastating diagnosis.”

The organization is about to break ground on its second hospice inpatient facility. The new facility on the Waltham-Lincoln line will be very similar to Kaplan House, Stringer said.

“This facility has really served as the model to the designer of that building,” she added.

The new facility will have 18 beds and will open in the summer of 2017.

While the inpatient facilities are important, Stringer stresses only a few of the 700 patients they handle each day are at Kaplan House.

“It’s bricks and mortar and people see it,” said Stringer. “This is a very important part of what we do, but its relatively small part of what we do. Most of the people we are caring for are in their own homes in the community or there might be an assisted living facility or skilled nursing facility.”

While Care Dimensions was growing and change, one thing wasn’t.

“The mission hasn’t changed, and that’s one of the things that I’m proudest of,” said Stringer. “Our focus has never waivered from patients and families and really promoting dignity and comfort at the end of life.”

Stringer’s future

When announcing that she would be retiring this year, Stringer said she’d “like to have time to myself to explore other interests.”

She admitted that she has been thinking about retiring for a while now.

“It’s not a sudden decision,” said Stringer. “I’ve been talking with the board about it for number of months for sure.”

She will continue to remain a member of the board of directors at Salem State University, she said.

Among her other interests are traveling and volunteering.

Asked for the top places on her travel list, she said, “I have a long list.”

She was more forthcoming about volunteering.

“I’ve been really privileged to work for an organization that has been has been mission-oriented and now I’d like to give back (and) help some organizations in a volunteer capacity,” said Stringer. “There are a lot of community organizations on the North Shore I’d be privileged to support.”
Since 1978, Care Dimensions has provided comprehensive and compassionate care for individuals and families dealing with life-threatening illnesses. As the non-profit leader in advanced illness care, we offer services in more than 95 communities in Eastern Massachusetts.