Hospice care offers hope and help


Image of executive director of Hospice of Warren County

For Lisa To, “everyday heroes” in life are those families and caregivers who accompany the terminally ill.

A nurse the past 32 years, To has spent the past five years as executive director of Hospice of Warren County. She sees up close the trials of those on the end-of-life journey.

“The families and caregivers of these patients provide unconditional love and support. That’s a beautiful thing to witness,” says To, who is a lifelong parishioner of St. Joseph Parish in Warren.

Born and raised at St. Joseph, To’s Catholic upbringing helps guide her chosen profession. Her mom, Joan Wozneak, also is a St. Joe’s parishioner.

“A huge part of life is empathizing with your fellow man. To be in a position to bring help and hope in situations generally thought to be hopeless is an incredible privilege,” To says. “There is a lot you can do as a human being and as a professional. For me, it’s all about ‘do unto others as you would have others do unto you.’”

Working in hospice, she says, has taught her to be more at peace and to let go of feeling like she needs definite answers.

“It’s made me more confident that whatever is after death is OK,” To says. “I’ve seen situations in hospice where people talk and share stories at the end of life. It pays to listen to that. It can be very comforting.”

One area of hospice that is somewhat misunderstood is services for ill children, To adds. Hospice of Warren County serves adults and children, but most clients are adult patients.

“We just want to make sure folks know that this level of care is also available for children and their families,” To says. “People generally hear about hospice and know people who have experienced hospice services, but when it comes to their own situation, they often don’t want to talk about it. It’s interpreted as ‘death.’ It’s really about helping people to live as well and fully as possible with all they’re dealing with.”

Care for terminally ill children is such an important issue that the Pediatric Palliative Care Coalition (PPCC) is bringing a one-day conference to Erie on April 25 at UPMC Hamot Women’s Hospital.

As co-chairperson of the conference, To is hoping hospice and pediatric providers, as well as school personnel who care for seriously ill children, will take advantage of the program. Dr. Scott Mauer, medical director of the Supportive Care Program at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, will be the keynote speaker, addressing the topic, “Difficult Conversations in Pediatric Palliative Care.”

Mauer will then join an afternoon session with Lynn Weissert, a registered nurse with Great Lakes Home Health and Hospice.

“The patient and the family are at the center of any hospice and palliative care plan,” To says.