Texas and New Mexico Hospice Organization (TNMHO) has selected Andrea Canon as the recipient of its Charley Wasson Hospice Advocate Award. The 2021 awards were received at the TNMHO annual convention awards ceremony on 8/1/2021.
The Charley Wasson* Hospice Advocate Award recognizes individuals who have served as either a hospice professional or volunteer for no less than three years. Individuals should be nominated for their 1) commitment to the core values of hospice, 2) unique approach to providing and extending hospice services, and 3) exhibits professional and personal development during their service to the hospice mission.
Joseph Brickner, Sherry Nelson-Veeder and Carrie Martinez nominated Andrea Cannon. The following was the nomination write up about Andrea:
Since joining VITAS Healthcare in San Antonio in 2017 as a registered nurse (RN) case manager, Andrea Canon has made a very visible and heartfelt mark on patient- and family-centered hospice care. She has done so through stellar managerial skills, a passion for people (especially children and teens on hospice care), and the ability to wear as many hats as are necessary to—in her own words—“help ensure that our patients and families are getting the highest quality care they deserve and need during this difficult journey, and to allow our patients to die with dignity.”
Less than 18 months after joining VITAS, Andrea was promoted to team manager of hospice home care—and she never limits herself to her office-based job title.
A self-described “goal achiever and multi-purpose team player,” Andrea is always ready to volunteer to work late; venture out to provide care through Texas storms, hurricanes, and floods; and carry a patient load when her team’s case managers are overly busy. Attuned to unpredictable Texas weather, Andrea herself says she had the “honor and privilege” of traveling into the community during inclement weather to meet with patients and families, admit them to hospice care if they meet eligibility guidelines, deliver supplies to patients/families in need, and stand vigil at the bedside when a patient dies.
Says Andrea: “Seeing the relief and thankfulness on the families’ and patients’ faces kept me going. It might have taken an hour to get 10 miles down and up hills, but it’s what they needed, and I have been blessed with the ability to do it…so I always will.”
She is guided by hospice’s core philosophy of providing compassionate, dignified end-of-life care to patients and their families. “Controlling symptoms is the first step,” she says, “but physical symptoms are not all that matter. The emotional strain on the patient and family needs to be treated as well. I coach my team and myself that memories count, and while our patients are still here with us on earth, we should create memories. We have increased our skillset to do anything from handprints to collaborating with Make-a-Wish Foundation on last-minute critical wishes; we’ve even made arrangements for patients to meet their favorite celebrities, including San Antonio Spurs athletes, their favorite sports mascots, and entertainer Bruno Mars.”
Andrea’s Unique Contributions: Pediatric Hospice Care A registered nurse since 2014, Andrea, 33, credits the foundational family support of her husband and two sons for her success in the hospice profession. It is perhaps her motherly instincts that have inspired her interest in and dedication to one of the most difficult hospice challenges: pediatric hospice care. “Pediatrics has my heart and soul,” Andrea says. During her tenure as a VITAS case manager, for example, she arranged for Santa Claus and Mrs. Claus to visit children’s homes to deliver gifts and take family photos. She successfully admitted patients as young as two days old to hospice care, with the sole goal of enabling parents to bring their baby home to meet with other family members before passing. In one case, she and her team crafted a neonatal intensive care unit inside a patient’s home to allow a premature infant to die in peace, surrounded by family. One dying 17-year-old patient was able to marry his high school sweetheart of four years, thanks to Andrea’s intervention; he died two days later. Perhaps most remarkable was the herculean effort to make a dying teenager’s wish come true. Diagnosed with a rare form of aggressive bone cancer that was not responding to treatment, the 18-year-old teen’s final wish was to donate her tumor for research after her death to give other children with the same cancer a chance at survival. Andrea’s support and her team’s intervention included grief/bereavement hospice services and funeral arrangements for the teen and her family, as well as the complicated logistics of coordinating with various healthcare partners to retrieve the tumor within a four-hour window of her death so that the tissue remained viable for research. Several months after the teen’s death, medical research began using data from the tumor to study how osteosarcoma functions.
Said Andrea at the time: “The most rewarding part is to see her dream come true and know that my team helped to orchestrate it. No single person would be able to do this. It took a chaplain to give prayers, a social worker helping with final arrangements, and crisis care staff providing support throughout. My team goes all-in with every patient. They’re my rock, the reason we can do what we do. The impact that we were able to have on her life was worth all the sweat and tears that came with it.”
Andrea describes hospice nurses as the “eyes and ears on patients for our physicians.” As such, they must be well-versed in a variety of disease processes and stages of decline. “Having difficult talks, like telling a family member that their loved one or child is dying, never gets easier. I have prided myself in being transparent with families, and I often tell them: ‘I apologize for my bluntness, but I shoot from the hip, and you will know what is going on with your loved one, and I promise you that my team and I will be here to support you all the way through.’ I have
found that the more knowledge we equip them with, the easier is the transition and their acceptance.” Andrea brings the same positive, supportive attitude and passion to her own VITAS colleagues, who also face the physical and emotional exhaustion of dealing with ongoing patient decline, death, and the challenges of complex family situations. Whether she’s celebrating a team member’s birthday, recognizing a colleague’s career/educational achievement, or praising a team’s improved CAHPS scores, “I try to bring light, not only for our patients’ lives but also into our office/work life.” Spontaneous dance-offs at the VITAS office? It’s Andrea’s version of stress reduction. Team involvement in various community fitness activities—whether 5K walks/runs, foam runs, color runs, or mud runs? It’s Andrea’s way of encouraging employee health. “Hospice can be very demanding and overwhelming, especially when everything is happening at once. It’s vital that we practice self-care so that we can continue to be there for our patients and families. I push to ensure that we are working as a team, making sure the needs have been met while also taking care of ourselves. I would not be able to do this job without them, and I have such a supportive staff in the office. My senior leadership sets an amazing example for me to strive for.” In the VITAS office in San Antonio, Andrea is well-versed in all aspects of hospice care and operations, often sought out by co-workers—and by VITAS colleagues in 13 other states and the District of Columbia—for her expertise in hospice admissions, triage, case management, inpatient care, and other common challenges related to end-of-life care.
“As hospice providers, we get only one chance at this,” says Joseph Brickner, Andrea’s boss and general manager of VITAS in San Antonio. “Look at why hospice was designed for patients: to have dignity, to have comfort, to have quality of life near the end of life. Andrea represents that every single day in everything she does. She is an amazing human being who will do anything for the benefit of our patients and their families.”