In Memoriam: YSN Dean Florence Wald, Founder of Hospice Care in the U.S.

Florence S. Wald, dean emerita of the Yale School of Nursing (YSN) and founder of hospice in the United States, died on Nov. 8 at her home in Branford. She was 91 years old.

Wald, a member of the National Women’s Hall of Fame and an American Academy of Nursing “Living Legend,” served as the fourth dean of YSN, from 1959 to 1966. She is credited with bringing the hospice movement to the United States from England and establishing the first American hospice unit in Branford, Connecticut, in 1971. This hospice became a model for hospice care in the United States and abroad. Her role in reshaping nursing education to focus on patients and their families changed the perception of care for the dying in this country.

“Hospice care for the terminally ill is the end piece of how to care for patients from birth on,” Wald wrote. “As more and more people — families of hospice patients and hospice volunteers — are exposed to this new model of how to approach end-of-life care, we are taking what was essentially a hidden scene — death, an unknown — and making it a reality. We are showing people that there are meaningful ways to cope with this very difficult situation.”

A world-renowned leader in nursing research, Wald held three degrees from Yale: Master of Nursing, Master of Science and Honorary Doctor of Medical Sciences. She was awarded the honorary Doctor of Law degree from the University of Bridgeport in 1967, the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Mount Holyoke College in 1978, and the honorary Doctor of Medical Sciences from Yale in 1995. She was a 1938 graduate of Mount Holyoke College.

While serving as dean of YSN, Wald initiated and implemented numerous reforms in educational programs, guiding the school to a new definition of nursing as a scholarly clinical discipline based in specialist nursing practice.

Her most recent work included bringing the hospice model of compassion and dignity in death to the Connecticut Correctional Facilities. Since its implementation, over 150 inmate volunteers have been trained to be hospice volunteers within state correctional facilities. This model is now being translated to the state Veterans’ Homes through a grant received at YSN from the Beatrice Renfield Foundation.

In an interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association, Wald explained that the needs of dying prisoners are different because they face death knowing they have not had successful lives. She found that inmates serving as hospice volunteers gained confidence from the situation. “It shows that even in this terrible situation, something good can happen, a sense of possibility emerges,” Wald said.

She received many other awards and accolades, including membership in the American Nurses’ Association Hall of Fame, the Connecticut Hall of Fame, the YSN Distinguished Alumna/us Award, the Founder’s Award of the American Hospice Association and the first Florence S. Wald Award for Contributions to Nursing Practice of the Connecticut Nurses Association. In November of 2007, the Connecticut Department of Veterans’ Affairs dedicated the Florence and Henry Wald House to provide a peaceful temporary home for families involved with hospice care at the facility.

“We at Yale were privileged to have Florence Wald with us for over 50 years,” says YSN Dean Margaret Grey. “In her passing we have lost a dear friend and an extraordinary leader and visionary who put the needs of the underserved as a primary life focus. Though relatively small and quiet in demeanor, her steely determination to change the way care is delivered made her voice strong. At YSN, we will miss her presence, but her legacy will live long in the faculty, staff and students who learned from her.”

Wald was preceded in death by her husband, Henry. She is survived by their children, Joel and Shari, and their grandchildren, Peter, Adam, Richard, David and Rachel. Memorial gifts may be made to the Yale University School of Nursing, and directed to the Florence Schorske Wald Scholarship Fund, which will aid students who wish to work with the underserved, or to a hospice of one’s choice.

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