From left, Nina O'Connor, Hospice of the Panhandle social worker; Audrey Smith, legislative assistant to Senator Joe Manchin; Melanie Hall, CEO of Hospice of Huntington

KEARNEYSVILLE — What may have surprised Hospice of the Panhandle social worker Nina O’Connor the most about a recent advocacy trip to Capitol Hill was just how much congressional staffers knew about hospice care.

“It was really amazing,” O’Connor said about her trip on April 16 and 17. “Every single staffer had his or her own story.”

O’Connor, as well as Hospice of Huntington CEO Melanie Hall, visited all three West Virginia congressional representatives’ offices and offices of Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin when they took part in the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization’s advocacy days in mid-April. They were joined by hospice representatives — nurses, social workers, certified nursing assistants, chaplains and volunteers — from across the U.S. O’Connor and Hall were the only representatives from West Virginia who attended.

The hospice advocates were asking support from the senators and congressional representatives for two pieces of legislation — the Rural Access to Hospice Care bill and the Palliative Care and Hospice Education Training Act. Though they didn’t get to meet with the representatives themselves (Congress was in recess), they did meet with staffers in each office.

Capito, a longtime advocate for hospice care, appeared via video to all hospice advocates from across the country. Capito has introduced the Rural Access Act, and has been advocating for the measure for the past several years with her congressional colleagues.

“It’s clear Sen. Capito is quite passionate about hospice care, and the need for access to the care in rural areas,” O’Connor said.

Both of Capito’s parents were served by hospices in other parts of West Virginia years ago. She personally appeared to speak at Hospice of the Panhandle’s 35th anniversary four years ago.

O’Connor especially enjoyed meeting with staff members in Rep. Alex Mooney, David McKinley and Carol Miller’s offices, as well as those on staff in Capito and Manchin’s offices.

“One (staffer) had me in tears,” O’Connor said. “She told me her story and how it touched her life. They all understood the value of services hospice provides.”

The staffer now continues to volunteer with hospice, helping to provide music therapy and acting as a volunteer for a kids’ grief camp.

“We recognize the value of sending a staff member to D.C. for this advocacy program,” said Hospice of the Panhandle CEO Margaret Cogswell. “They get to meet with our elected representatives or their staff members and talk about the value of hospice care in West Virginia communities. It’s usually a very powerful experience for our staff, and hopefully, for our elected officials and their staff members as well.”

Maria Lorensen has been the development director at Hospice of the Panhandle for 10 years. Hospice is a not-for-profit agency that has cared for patients and families with life-limiting illnesses in Berkeley, Morgan, Hampshire and Jefferson counties since 1980. For more information on how hospice helps residents of the four-county area live more fully, call (304) 264-0406, or visit on-line at