Family Hospice honors former CEO, therapy dog, Ivan

Published Jan 30, 2013 at 10:48 am (Updated Jan 30, 2013 at 10:48 am)

The past week has been a bittersweet one for the staff of Family Hospice and Palliative Care in Mt. Lebanon, and the families they serve. The organization lost two of its most cherished employees – Rafael Sciullo and Ivan, Family Hospice’s only full-time therapy dog – on Jan. 29 as Sciullo, Ivan’s main caretaker, left to become CEO of Suncoast Hospice in Florida.

Ivan lives with Rafael off-hours, including nights and weekends. “I can assure you that they both will be missed here at Family Hospice,” said Greg Jena, manager of marketing and public relations at Family Hospice.

Ivan, a 5-year-old golden retriever and graduate of New Hope Assistance Dogs with a background as a companion for the disabled, was honored Jan. 22 during Pittsburgh Council’s general session in council chambers. But in a fitting send-off, a special presentation was held Jan. 24 at Family Hospice, in which Lori Marabello, executive assistant to Pittsburgh City Councilwoman Theresa Kail-Smith, was on hand to present Ivan with an official Pittsburgh City Council Proclamation declaring Jan. 22, 2013, as Ivan Day in the City of Pittsburgh. The proclamation honors Ivan’s service to the patients of The Center for Compassionate Care, the hospice’s 12-room inpatient unit.

Sciullo said the honor is well-deserved. “We know what Ivan’s done for this organization, exactly for the reason we brought him here. When I first saw him up at Therapy Dogs International the woman said, ‘Have I got the sweetheart for you.’ So he’s going to miss all of you, terribly ... I know that. But just like me, he’ll have all of you in his heart,” said Sciullo, adding, “Thank you again.”

Sandy Martin of Philadelphia, whose mother is receiving end-of-life care at the Center for Compassionate Care, had nothing but good things to say about Ivan. Martin’s mother, who is from Mt. Lebanon, had not been responsive to family or staff. However, Martin said as the family sat at her bedside, Ivan pushed open the door to her room and walked to the side of her bed. Martin said her mother responded to Ivan’s presence and moved toward him.

After the presentation, Sciullo added that he is not sure if Ivan will continue his services as a therapy dog at Suncoast Hospice. “It’s a very intense thing. He’s very tired at the end of the day.”

Franco Insana began filling in as interim CEO Jan. 28, and will continue to take on both roles until a successor is found for Sciullo.

Sciullo joined Family Hospice in 2001 and with the help of his team, transformed the organization into one of the leading hospice providers in the state. Over the past decade, Sciullo developed 19 programs for patients and their families, including the opening of The Center for Compassionate Care in Mt. Lebanon.

“This is a bittersweet moment for me as I’ve had the opportunity to lead what many of my peers believe to be one of the best hospice programs in the business,” said Sciullo, a native of Bloomfield. “I am eternally grateful to our entire staff, to our tremendous volunteers and to our community-focused board of directors, for their service, support and encouragement during my years here. I will truly miss this place, these people and Pittsburgh.”

Bob Butter, chair of Family Hospice’s Board of Directors, said, “We are very proud of Family Hospice’s growth and development under Rafael’s leadership, we congratulate him on this new opportunity and acknowledge his vision, innovation and compassion that has made Family Hospice and Palliative Care one of the country’s leading hospice programs.”

According to Jena, FHPC’s Board of Directors will conduct a national search for a successor that may take up to six months. “Family Hospice will likely wait until the new CEO is in place before making any decisions about another full-time therapy dog for The Center for Compassionate Care,” said Jena, adding that Family Hospice continues to be served by nine other therapy dogs. “Through the efforts of our dedicated volunteers, these therapy dogs are available to visit our patients anywhere in the community, whether in their own homes, long-term care facilities or in one of our two inpatient units in Mt. Lebanon and Lawrenceville.

“Ivan has truly made a difference during his time at Family Hospice since arriving in June 2010,” Jena said. “We have received countless comments on how welcome his presence is for patients and their loved ones alike.”

Sciullo’s and Ivan’s last day at FHPC was Jan. 25.

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