In the realm of hospice care, compassion and dedication form the bedrock of service. Alexandra Pedersen-Green, a resident of Rio Rancho, New Mexico, has exemplified these qualities throughout her remarkable journey to becoming a hospice nurse.
Pedersen-Green’s path into nursing took an unconventional route. She began as a Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA) in assisted living facilities, steadily working her way up. She earned her Licensed Practical Nursing (LPN) degree, gaining experience in diverse healthcare settings, including sub-acute care, assisted living, and a high-intensity mental health and chemical dependency unit. However, her calling lay in hospice care. It was here, as an LPN, that she discovered her true vocation. While working as an LPN in hospice, she pursued her RN degree and is now on the verge of completing her BSN while simultaneously working on an MBA and managing nursing staff.
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Pedersen-Green is fueled by a deep-seated passion for helping individuals and their families experience a dignified end-of-life journey. She views death as an inevitable part of life and believes that assisting individuals and their families during this critical time is a profound calling.
“Helping people have the best experience possible during this paramount time,” she says, “is so meaningful. Death is a part of life, and I firmly believe in assisting individuals and their families to navigate it with grace and compassion,” said Alexandra.
As a nurse manager, Pedersen-Green dons many hats, embracing a diverse range of responsibilities. Her day is a whirlwind of activities, from budget meetings and compliance discussions to managing human resources. Simultaneously, she’s the go-to person for her nursing team, addressing field inquiries and concerns.
Moreover, she often finds herself communicating with families, helping them navigate the complexities of hospice care. These conversations revolve around hospice admission or medication orders. Her role also encompasses overseeing multiple projects aimed at enhancing productivity, workflow, and overall patient experience within the hospice setting.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Pedersen-Green faced a unique set of challenges. She was assigned to a nursing home that had transformed one of its wings into a COVID unit. The mortality rate in this unit was alarmingly high, and many patients under her care succumbed to the virus. Despite the grim circumstances, Pedersen-Green was determined to provide solace to her patients and their families.
One particularly poignant moment involved a grandmother who had stopped responding. Through a video call, Pedersen-Green helped the grandmother’s middle school-aged grandchildren reminisce about their fondest memories. In the face of impending loss, the grandmother smiled, her spirit lifted by the love and shared memories.
In another heart-wrenching scenario, a daughter, using a video call, sang a song to her COVID-stricken parents. All three patients passed away within 24 hours, but they did so knowing their families were with them until the end, even if only virtually.
While hospice care is about providing comfort and dignity to the terminally ill, it doesn’t exempt families from facing daunting challenges. For many, acceptance is difficult, but one of the most prevalent challenges revolves around finances. Families often grapple with the financial strain of caring for a loved one during their final days. Questions about taking time off work or hiring external assistance become pressing, and the fear of potential job loss looms large.
Pedersen-Green has witnessed firsthand how the absence of paid leave takes a toll on families, emotionally and financially. She recalls a situation where a daughter, caring for her dying mother, couldn’t afford to take unpaid leave. The daughter faced a harrowing dilemma, torn between the desire to be with her mother and the need to provide for her own children. The burden was immense.
“If paid family medical leave were part of the law, these families would be protected. There would be safeguards that would keep caregivers from losing their job while taking care of a dying loved one. It would ensure that a mother didn’t have to choose between caring for her Mom or her children. And most of all, it would ease the stress that some of these patients face as they are dying, because no one wants to be a burden or to see their loved one struggling to care for you,” Alexandra said.
In her view, Paid Family & Medical Leave (PFML) would significantly alleviate the challenges faced by families in hospice care. By providing financial stability during these difficult times, PFML would allow caregivers to focus on their loved ones without the added stress of job security and income.
Pedersen-Green calls upon healthcare professionals to engage with organizations like the New Mexico Paid Family & Medical Leave (NMPFML) and to communicate with legislators. She believes that healthcare workers should advocate for policies that not only support patients within healthcare facilities but also extend that support to patients and their families in their homes.
Working in hospice care has profoundly impacted Pedersen-Green’s views on family and medical leave policies. She can’t stress enough how heartbreaking it is to witness families struggling to balance work and caregiving during their loved one’s final days. She firmly believes that PFMLA could ease the burden on these families.
To policymakers, Pedersen-Green offers a poignant message: “I would ask that they look at the numbers about cost when it would start and sustainability, but then I would ask them to look at their family. Look at your kids and think about what struggles they will have when you are dying. Look at your parents and think about if you want to worry about money and job stability or laughing with my Dad one last time. Then lastly, think about the average New Mexican and what they are having to balance while going through cancer treatments.”
Looking ahead, Pedersen-Green hopes that New Mexico will join states like Colorado in passing PFML laws. She envisions a future where families in hospice care can find solace in knowing they won’t have to choose between their loved ones and financial stability.
Pedersen-Green believes that ordinary citizens can make a difference by getting informed about PFML, talking to their legislators, employers, friends, and family members, and raising awareness about the critical need for Paid Family & Medical Leave in New Mexico.
As the sun sets over New Mexico, Alexandra Pedersen-Green continues her invaluable work as a hospice nurse, a tireless advocate for PFML, and a symbol of unwavering compassion in the face of life’s most profound moments. Her journey serves as a testament to the enduring importance of policies that support families during their times of greatest need.
This story was produced and published thanks to the support of the American Heart Association.