$1 million gift from Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan will fund endowed palliative care fellowship at WMed

Palliative Care Fellowship
The gift from Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan provides a launching point for the new one-year fellowship.

A generous $1 million gift from Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan will fund an endowed palliative care fellowship at the medical school.

The gift, which was approved earlier this year by the Board of Directors at Hospice, is a launching point for the one-year fellowship, which will provide training for up to two physicians seeking certification in geriatric and chronic illness management care after their completion of residency.

“The implementation of palliative care in a community involves high-quality services, education about palliative care for families and providers, and the third sphere is workforce supply,” said Michael Raphelson, MD, medical director of Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan and a clinical assistant professor in the medical school’s Department of Family and Community Medicine. “This fellowship is really the third component of completing palliative care services in the community.”

Doug Czajkowski, the medical school’s Associate Dean for Development, said the $1 million gift is “a great start” towards getting the new fellowship up and running at WMed. The process of gaining approval of the new fellowship by the Accreditation Council for Graduate Medical Education (ACGME) is underway.

He said the medical school will initially bring one fellow to Kalamazoo for the new palliative care program. According to Czajkowski, the medical school hopes to raise $4 million so that the endowment can fund the training of competent and compassionate palliative care physicians for the foreseeable future.

“We can’t thank (Hospice CEO) Jean Maile and the Hospice board enough for providing the resources to make this fellowship a reality,” Czajkowski said.

Dr. Raphelson said the new fellowship and the gift from Hospice could not come at a better – and more critical – time for the field of palliative care.

He said the new fellowship at WMed will help fill what he said is “an extreme shortage” in the number of certified palliative care providers in the U.S. Currently, he said, there are a little more than 5,000 certified providers despite an ever-growing need and a U.S. population that is aging rapidly.

“Never before have our demographics demonstrated the need more,” Dr. Raphelson said. “Ten thousand people turn 65 every day in this country and there are more families in Michigan with a member over the age of 65 than there are with children. There are 5.1 million people in the country with Alzheimer’s and there will be 7 million by 2020, and our elderly population is going to increase to 25 percent of the population by 2030.”

Once the new palliative care fellowship launches at WMed, Dr. Raphelson said fellows will be welcomed into a program that will offer them a wealth of experiences, including rotations at Kalamazoo’s two hospitals, Ascension Borgess and Bronson Methodist Hospital, as well as Bronson Battle Creek, the Battle Creek VA Medical Center, Hospice Care of Southwest Michigan and the West Michigan Cancer Center.

“We’ll train two fellows per year with the goal that if they train here maybe they’ll stay here,” Dr. Raphelson said.

Maile credited Dr. Raphelson for being “the heart and visionary,” and the driving force behind the new fellowship. She said the new program and the decision by the Hospice Board of Directors to give the $1 million gift came after seven years of work by Dr. Raphelson to see a palliative care fellowship become a reality in Kalamazoo.

“This fellowship fulfills our mission of compassionate care at the end of life and will add resources to our community,” said Maile, who has led Hospice as its CEO for the past 25 years. “We thought if we could jumpstart it with a lead gift then that was something we could give back to the community … I think, at some point, you have to create an environment that starts the momentum and that’s what I thought this lead gift might be able to do.”

Dr. Raphelson said that in addition to helping feed the demand for certified palliative care physicians, he believes the new fellowship will also lead to increased awareness about palliative care among medical students and residents in Kalamazoo and spark interest among them and physicians in the community about broadening their skill set.

“I feel this community has everything it needs to provide high-quality palliative care training,” Dr. Raphelson said.

Czajkowski said the new fellowship is a clear example of the spirit of community collaboration that is needed for the fellowship – and the medical school – to be successful. To help get the new fellowship off the ground, he said, Bronson has agreed to fund the salary portion of the first year for the program’s first fellow.

“This fellowship shows how the community and our hospital partners are working with us to create programming that will benefit patients and the community at large,” Czajkowski said.