When Carolyn Cassin lost her baby son, she went back to work the following Monday, devastated.
The year was 1976 and people didn’t talk openly about grief and loss. She remembers the platitudes: “you’re young, you’ll have other children,” and the silence. Cassin realized that nothing much had changed in the 10 years since the death of her father. She swallowed that loss, too, returning to high school a few days after the funeral.
“I never grieved for my father or my baby,” recalled Cassin, who now serves as president and CEO of the Michigan Women’s Foundation. “I remember thinking: If death is a natural part of life, why don’t we talk about it? Why don’t we grieve? “I was confounded by this. I didn’t know what to do.”
So Cassin channeled her energy and sadness into education. A fellowship program through the Kellogg Foundation enabled her to study the concept of hospice, which was still taking root in America.
“I became unbelievably taken by this,” she remembered. “As I was sitting down and reading, the tears started to come.”
I thought, “Oh, this is what death should be like. You should be surrounded by friends and family. You should be able to talk about, prepare for it, say your goodbyes. “It touched something very deep in me and I knew this was what I needed to do.”
And so was born a passionate advocate for hospice. Cassin connected with the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization in the early 1980s, helping to bring standards of care to hospice providers throughout the country. She was tapped to join the National Hospice Education Project, which worked to create the Medicare hospice benefit in 1982. As the CEO of Hospice of Southeastern Michigan, hers was one of the first hospice programs in the country to be certified under those new guidelines.
But the career achievement she’s most proud of? Uniting 10 nonprofit hospice providers around the state under the umbrella of Hospice of Michigan, where she served as CEO for more than a decade.
“Sometimes it takes being at the right place at the right time,” Cassin said. “My sense was that hospice had two paths we could go down. We could each stay in our own community organization and fend for ourselves or we could start to band together as not-for-profit hospice providers and create the size, girth and expertise of a sophisticated organization that could compete with the for-profits.
That process continues today as Hospice of Michigan joined forces in January with Arbor Hospice. The affiliation of two like-minded, mission-driven, nonprofit organizations allows them to better serve patients and families while helping to strengthen and expand the future of nonprofit hospice in Michigan.
Cassin continues to support the mission of nonprofit hospice through a legacy gift of $1 million to the Hospice of Michigan Foundation in support of its Open Access program, which will bear her name. Open Access ensures that all patients, without regard to age, diagnosis or ability to pay, can receive compassionate care at the end of life.
Legacy gifts like Cassin’s are critical to supporting the mission of nonprofit organizations like Hospice of Michigan and Arbor Hospice. Residents of Washtenaw County and beyond have a long history of supporting Arbor Hospice’s work through generous contributions to The Arbor Hospice Foundation.
That generosity is underscored by a recent legacy gift of $500,000, pledged anonymously by a donor who appreciates Arbor’s dedication to patients’ dignity, comfort and peace and the nonprofit model that enables Arbor to put patients’ needs first. While patients of both Hospice of Michigan and Arbor benefit from enhancements made possible through the affiliation, donors may continue directing their gifts to a specific organization.
“Uniting 10 organizations under the banner of nonprofit hospice was quite the feat to pull off,” said Marcie Hillary, who serves as vice president for Hospice of Michigan. “It is Carolyn that we have to thank for our platform that strengthens and supports nonprofit hospice. Her level of innovation and forethought set the stage for Hospice of Michigan and Arbor Hospice to be recognized as leaders in end-of-life care.”