We are thrilled to congratulate Lee Ann Long of our Hospice Cleveland County branch for being awarded the 2023 Leslie Carswell Leadership Award by AHHC!
Lee Ann began her hospice nursing career in 1988 at the age of 22 and is now the longest tenured individual in our organization. She has dedicated her entire 34-year career to serving hospice patients and families in our community, and she is most deserving of this recognition by AHHC.
Hospice Cleveland County has grown from a small homecare hospice with 25 patients and 10 employees to a large, progressive hospice organization with homecare hospice serving 160 patients, plus two hospice houses/IPUs, a large palliative care program, eight full-time providers, and 130 employees. Lee Ann has been an integral part of this growth, transitioning from a homecare RN Case Manager to an RN Team Leader, to Director of Nursing for homecare, to Vice President of Clinical Services. As our chief nurse executive, she has been a fixture on numerous committees, including quality, strategic planning, professional advisory, and compliance to name a few.
During thirty-four years in the hospice industry, Lee Ann has achieved numerous “firsts.” She developed a successful continuous care program, when most in the industry would say it's almost impossible. She was our first nurse to achieve certification as a hospice and palliative care nurse in 1994 (and was in the second group of nurses in the country to become CHPN certified). She then encouraged and inspired many others to pursue this certification by developing and teaching exam preparation courses for certification, with half of our staff nurses becoming certified. Lee Ann became our first ELNEC trainer, helping to educate all staff on end-of-life care. She played a central role in achieving Joint Commission accreditation in 1999 and re-accreditation every three years since. She led the agency effort to develop a NC Nurses Association-approved Continuing Education program. Most recently, she was responsible for revising our infection control program and for leading all infection control efforts throughout the COVID pandemic.
During her tenure, Lee Ann has given countless numbers of talks throughout the community, within local healthcare facilities, the local hospital system, and local colleges. She has educated skilled nursing facility nurses, hospital case managers, physician practice staff, nursing students, and EMS workers to name a few. Quite simply, she is seen as THE expert on end-of-life care, including pain control and other symptom management, in our community.
Lee Ann has contributed to the hospice nursing profession by her active role in many educational collaboratives with local colleges and universities. By serving on the board of the Foothills Nursing Consortium and as an agency liaison, she ensures that nursing students have access to hospice care during clinical rotations. Her involvement with the SECU grant to Hospice & Home Care Foundation of NC provided substantial education and learning experiences for RN students at Gardner Webb University, including clinical rotation opportunities, one-on-one mentoring, and standardized employer-based training, to allow new RN graduates to become hospice nurses. Lee Ann has been innovative in recognizing the nursing profession needs of the community and working proactively with other educational organizations to improve access to clinical rotations and exposure to hospice care as a potential field of interest.
Lee Ann has been the organization's leader and "face of hospice" on multiple collaboratives with local hospitals, local colleges and universities, local EMS and local emergency planning. She has been the hospice advocate at the table, working for shared goals and improvement efforts. She recently participated in a successful local initiative with the county's Emergency Medical Services and Atrium hospital teams focused on preventing unwanted hospitalizations, and several practices that Lee Ann implemented at our organization have been extremely effective in preventing hospitalizations.
She has also served as an active member of the Substance Abuse Prevention Coalition of Cleveland County since 2014. Again, the hospice face and advocate at the table, working for common goals for the community at large, while helping others understand hospice services.
As stated earlier, Lee Ann has progressed professionally from a homecare RN Case Manager at the beginning of her career to our Vice President of Clinical Services, the organization’s highest nurse leadership role. She was our first RN to achieve certification as a hospice and palliative care nurse. She was also the organization's first ELNEC trainer.
Her completion of a BSN degree and MSN degree, both while working full time, has inspired others to pursue advance degrees to expand their clinical knowledge. With great courage, she completed the MSN degree soon after the tragic death of her husband, and she received the UNCC School of Nursing's On-line MSN Excellence in Leadership Award. She then completed a Doctor of Nursing Practice program through East Carolina University, adding yet again to her clinical expertise and continuing to share this expertise in numerous ways. While in this program, she received the Graduate Research Symposium’s Best Poster Presentation for the Public Health, Social Sciences, and Business Division.
First and foremost, Lee Ann has contributed to the hospice nursing profession by being an outstanding, compassionate, skilled hospice nurse. She has led by example, and she has created a ripple effect. She has been a leader and a model, inspiring many other nurses to become hospice nurses, or to become better hospice nurses. She sets a high standard. She leads by example. She is professional, she is humble, she is an expert, she is hands on. She has made a contribution by mentoring, teaching, coaching, and leading many hospice nurses, over 34 years in this industry. Those nurses have gone on to do the same, making a difference in the lives of countless individuals.
Lee Ann’s impact and inspiration for others was on full display at a recent event honoring her service and announcing her retirement. The outpouring of admiration and appreciation for her was impressive beyond words.
Despite being our Vice President of Clinical Services and holding the highest credentials of any nurse in our organization, Lee Ann humbly wears any hat that is needed by the organization and our patients. As a nurse leader, you may find her in a planning meeting, writing policies, running analytics, or teaching an in-service. But you might also find her pushing a medication cart, answering a call bell, or completing an emergency admission. She has the ultimate servant's heart and a tireless dedication to both patients and staff. She does whatever is needed, whatever is asked, and never says "that's not my job." She personifies leadership in action.
Under Lee Ann’s clinical leadership, the agency has consistently provided exceptional hospice care, as evidenced by very high CAHPS scores and positive financial results. The organization has also consistently served more than half of all county residents at the end of their life, a tribute to the community’s recognition of the excellence of our care. Recently, the agency achieved a CMS 5-star rating, one of only 10% of hospices in the country to do so.
Lee Ann is recognized within our organization as an excellent teacher, and she regularly shares her clinical knowledge through workshops and in-services, ranging from pain and symptom management, to eligibility documentation, to "shape of the visit" training to ensure quality and consistency in care delivery. Whether it's teaching how to have difficult conversations, how to use SBAR, how to paint the picture to support eligibility, how to perform a new clinical procedure, or how to document a new process in a new EMR, she's done it all. Her teaching style and the extent of her knowledge is unmatched. She is truly a gifted speaker and leaves her audience better than she found them.
Lee Ann’s passion for education is what led her to pursue the DNP degree, creating another avenue for teaching. Although she is retiring as a hospice nurse leader, she will continue to make a difference in healthcare by teaching young, impressionable students how to become strong, compassionate, exceptional nurses.
We are so very proud of you, Lee Ann! Congratulations on your well earned award and thank you for your incredible service to our organization and our communities.