HPNA Celebrates the Life of Elizabeth Ford Pitorak

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The Hospice and Palliative Nurses Association (HPNA) celebrates the life of Elizabeth Ford Pitorak, MSN, CSN, FPCN, who died at home on May 7, 2023, following a long illness.

Ms. Pitorak is nationally and internationally recognized as a pioneer and expert in the hospice field. She worked in the field of hospice and pain management for more than 35 years.

She served on the HPNA Board of Directors from 1996–2001 and was president in 1991. She also served on the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Foundation (HPNF) Board of Directors in 1998. She received the HPNA Distinguished Career Achievement Award and became an HPNF Florence Wald Champion in 2007. She was inducted as an HPNA Fellow in Palliative Nursing in 2009.

In 1978, Ms. Pitorak spearheaded a committee of various community members, with a starting budget of $23,000 and a goal to establish a hospice. Three years later, they established what was then called Hospice of Lake County. Today, it’s known as Hospice of the Western Reserve, which encompasses six counties in northern Ohio. It’s one of the ten largest nonprofit hospice agencies in the United States. It also has a nationally renowned pediatric hospice and palliative care program, founded by Ms. Pitorak.

Ms. Pitorak also was the project director for Project Safe Conduct, a revolutionary collaboration between two nationally renowned organizations: the Ireland Cancer Center (at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals Cleveland) and Hospice of the Western Reserve. The project was funded by a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Promoting Excellence in End-of-Life Care grant. The model allows lung cancer patients at Ireland Cancer Center to receive life-prolonging care, including experimental therapy protocols, alongside state-of-the-art palliative care, which emphasizes symptom relief; a holistic approach to physical, psychosocial, and spiritual issues; and, when cure is no longer possible, assistance with the difficult but normal challenges of life completion and closure. Statistics showed a significant change in the proportion of patients in a hospice program at the time of death: during the pre-project period, only 13 percent died in a hospice program. Following the launch of the program, that number rose to 80 percent. In addition, the median length of stay in hospice increased from three days to 29, and the average length of stay rose from 10 days to 44. Before the project began, study-eligible lung cancer patients averaged 6.3 visits to the hospital or emergency department. Following the inception of the project, such visits decreased to 3.1. For its innovative model of palliative care, Project Safe Conduct received the 2002 Circle of Life Award and the Award of Excellence in Education from the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization.

Throughout her career, Ms. Pitorak gave lectures to multidisciplinary groups and published articles on nursing care in advanced illness and at the end of life, difficult discussions, cardiac nursing, pain management, leadership, caregiver support, and oncology nursing. She also traveled to South Korea and Slovakia to teach hospice and palliative care philosophy.

Ms. Pitorak expanded her work as executive director and founder of Pathways for Pets, a palliative care and hospice program with the mission to relieve suffering and promote quality of life for companion animals facing life-limiting illness.

Among her many regional and national accolades, Ms. Pitorak was honored as one of 100 Nurse Transformers by the Ohio State Nursing Alumni Association in 2014. She also received the Award for Excellence from the Frances Payne Bolton School of Nursing Alumni Association and the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Ohio State University College of Nursing Alumni Society.

HPNA will remember Elizabeth Ford Pitorak for the incredible impact she made on our organization and the practice of hospice care. HPNA has made a donation to HPNF in her memory.