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‘A friend to all of us,’ Big Bend Hospice CEO Cathy Adkison dies after long illness

It is with profound sadness that Big Bend Hospice shares that our leader, colleague, and friend, Cathy Adkison died on Thursday, Dec. 12, following a long illness. She was surrounded by her loved ones and by the hope that Hospice inspires for patients and families in their greatest time of need.

“Cathy led from the heart, and for the past eight years, she gave her heart and soul to Big Bend Hospice,” Interim CEO Bill Wertman, said. “I have served with many leaders but none more compassionate than Cathy. She was more than a CEO; she was a friend to all of us.”

Adkison battled breast cancer beginning in 2012. "One thing I've learned about having breast cancer is you don't know if you're going to have tomorrow," Adkison told the Tallahassee Democrat in 2013. "Through it all, I've had very kind and wonderful people helping me."

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Jan. 4, 2020 at Capital City Country Club. Adkison’s family requests that attendees wear blue, which was her favorite color, and pearls, which she loved. In lieu of flowers, her family requests memorial contributions to the Cathy Adkison Endowment for Hope at Big Bend Hospice, 1723 Mahan Center Blvd., Tallahassee, FL, 32308.

Adkison, 62, was first and foremost a nurse. She considered nursing a calling and was immensely proud of her chosen profession and of her daughter who followed in her footsteps as a registered nurse. She started her career as a certified nursing assistant and spent more than 40 years working for home health and hospice organizations with more than 25 years at the administrative level. She joined Big Bend Hospice as CEO in 2011.

“Cathy has led our great organization with grace and heart in every sense of those words,” said Rheb Harbison, chairman of the Big Bend Hospice Board of Directors. “Her personal kindness, professional dedication, and her unmatched ethically-driven approach to serving the needs of the patients and families of Big Bend Hospice was simply stunning. We will miss her immensely.”

The Board of Directors will conduct a search for Big Bend Hospice’s next CEO. Wertman, who was COO under Adkison, will continue to serve as interim CEO.

Before joining Big Bend Hospice eight years ago, Adkison’s leadership positions included senior vice president of operations for Alacare Home Health and Hospice in Birmingham, Alabama; vice president of operations, western region, for Covenant Hospice in Pensacola, Florida; director of regional operations for Covenant Hospice in Panama City, Florida; and administrator of Care South Home Health in Albany, Georgia.

A vocal champion for hospice care, Adkison served on the Executive Committee of the Florida Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and on committees for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. She was an exceptional leader who led with a quiet strength, steady demeanor and kindness.

In 2018, Big Bend Hospice honored Adkison with the inaugural Cathy Adkison Leadership Award, an annual honor given to an employee who embodies her compassion and excellence. She also received Big Bend Hospice’s Jean Coyne Nurse of Excellence Award in recognition of her dedication and service as a registered nurse.

An avid reader her entire life, Adkison was an advocate for learning. She encouraged her staff to continue their education and set the example by seeking ways to further her own development. She was a Certified Hospice and Palliative Care Nurse and a Certified Home Care and Hospice Executive.

Adkison enjoyed life and encouraged everyone around her to do the same. She loved line dancing, Mexican food and shopping at Target with her daughter and granddaughter. She was known for using old sayings including, “That’s scarcer than hens’ teeth,” and when she wanted to encourage her team, she’d often say, “We’re planting seeds.”

Instead of saying goodbye to her granddaughter, she always said, “Oodles of toodles.” One of her staff’s favorite memories is when Adkison, who was small in stature, dressed like an elf for the annual office holiday party. 

“In Cathy’s honor, we will support each other in this time of grief and dedicate ourselves to the mission and values that she worked so tirelessly to uphold on behalf of our patients and families in the eight counties we serve,” Wertman said.

Gini West, RN, BSN, MSN, is Chief Clinical Officer at Big Bend Hospice.