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AccentCare honors a woman’s last wish with a trip to the beach

Mark Parker



Piper Stannard Vanderlee, director of patient experience for AccentCare Hospice, talks with Stacy Washington as she makes one last trip to the beach. Photos provided.

As area beaches begin to overflow with an influx of students celebrating the week-long respite known as Spring Break, Indian Rocks Beach had a decidedly different kind of visitor last Thursday.

Stacy Washington, 48, is dying, and her last request was one more opportunity to breathe in the salt air, feel the sun on her face and listen to the waves crash against the shore. Thanks to the compassion and quick action by her care team at AccentCare Hospice, her final wish was fulfilled.

Knowing time was a luxury Washington no longer possessed, a team from the AccentCare Inpatient Care Center in Largo sprang into action to see that her request became a reality.

“She had shared with me that the beach, for her, is a place of renewal,” said Piper Stannard Vanderlee, director of patient experience. “She said it was absolutely amazing.”

Washington came to AccentCare on Tuesday, March 8, for end-of-life care. Her family asked that her diagnosis remain undisclosed and declined an interview for the story during a trying time.

Vanderlee was introduced to Washington on March 9, and realized she is non-ambulatory and easily fatigued. Vanderlee said when she met with Washington and realized the severity of her condition, she knew she needed to act fast.

After realizing the severity of Washington’s condition, Vanderlee orchestrated the trip in a day.

“She had only been on service for a couple of days, and we were able to make this happen,” said Vanderlee. “We were able to act swiftly and get her to the beach on Thursday, the 10th.”

AccentCare hired Medfleet, which provided non-emergency support and a stretcher, and a rubber mat helped navigate the stretcher through the sugar sand at Indian Rocks Beach. Wrapped in comfortable blankets and with a pair of EMTs waiting in the background, Vanderlee propped Washington up with a one final, clear view of the Gulf of Mexico.

Just below an oxygen tank strapped to the back of the stretcher sat a brown wicker basket filled with Washington’s favorite beach day foods – hotdogs and a bag of Lay’s Classic potato chips. Washington has trouble eating these days, but Vanderlee said she managed to finish about a third of her beach picnic.

The trip was not about food, however, and Vanderlee said the overcast day allowed Washington to relax with a sense of peace, without worrying about the sun.

“She would just close her eyes and listen to the waves,” said Vanderlee. “We tried to give her some time to herself … she just kept saying how thankful she was and how this is exactly what she wanted and everything she hoped it would be.

“It really seemed to do wonderful things for her.”

Vanderlee said that while Washington told a nurse she is originally from the Philadelphia area, she has lived in Florida for quite some time and described herself as a true Floridian. The beach holds special meaning for Floridians, Vanderlee said, and it meant a lot to Washington to make a final visit.

Washington has gone through great loss and changes recently, said Vanderlee, and she made it clear that the beach brought her a sense of renewal. She mentioned the ever-changing waves, constantly pushing and receding, several times during their visit.

“I think being able to go there and feel like herself again – that was pretty key,” Vanderlee said.

The group was able to stay for an hour before fatigue set in for Washington. She fell asleep a couple of times, and they thought it was best to bring her back to the facility.

Washington is a mother of seven, and the family remains close, said Vanderlee. Washington told Vanderlee she spent her life raising her kids and acting as a caregiver for other family members as they fell ill.

While Vanderlee said there is no crystal ball to predict how much time Washington has left, she said the best guess is days to weeks.

“We did this so expeditiously because we did not think that she would have another chance to go to the beach again,” added Vanderlee.

Vanderlee called the opportunity to make Washington’s final request a reality both fortunate and humbling. She said the main goal of hospice care is to make patients as comfortable as possible, and AccentCare does its best to grant final wishes like Washington’s when possible.

Bringing Washington to the beach and holding her hand as they talked about life, Vanderlee said, was probably the most memorable experience of her career. She is extremely grateful that her work allows the opportunity to provide joy and help regain a sense of purpose for severely ill patients in their final moments.

“And that sense of, just because I’m sick, it doesn’t define who I am,” said Vanderlee. “I think that’s a lot of what we try and do in hospice in general, but also with these trips that we try and take for them.”


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    March 16, 2022at12:45 pm

    This is beautiful. I’m so glad that Ms. Washington was able to enjoy this experience. Great job AccentCare Inpatient Care Center!

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    March 18, 2022at3:50 pm

    Such a Lovely thing to do for a patient on Hospice Blessing to who was with the patient that help with her wish

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    Christina Cruz

    March 23, 2022at8:14 am

    Such a beautiful act and Miss Wahington was able to fullfill her wish. So thankful

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