Born and raised on the North Shore of Chicago, Kimberly Goessele was already immersed in a successful healthcare career when she moved to Nashville almost 30 years ago. Recently appointed President and CEO of Alive Hospice, Middle Tennessee’s only not-for-profit hospice center, she’s not only bringing innovation to the table but assisting terminal patients with reimagining their end of life. She’s spreading the message that hospice care isn’t where you go to “give up.” Instead, it’s about taking back your final chapter and choosing your own narrative. With upcoming events such as the poignant annual Butterfly Release fundraiser, which takes place on Saturday, July 11, Alive Hospice provides our community with a beautiful and graceful way to grieve. Under Kimberly’s guidance, Alive patients receive physical, emotional and spiritual support, as well as the dignity they deserve. Please welcome our newest FACE of Nashville, Kimberly Goessele.
Tell us about your background.
I was born and raised in the North Shore of Chicago. I went to school up there and moved down here when I was 24. I’m one of three children, so I have an older brother and an older sister. Unfortunately, both my parents are deceased. My father died when I was quite young, which is probably where I got my strong work ethic. As kids, we grew up a little bit faster, but it also had us focused on doing things and doing them well.
Tell us about Alive Hospice and its mission.
Alive is almost 45 years old. We were one of the first hospice care organizations in the United States, and it’s easy to fall back on that. In Middle Tennessee, we are the only not-for-profit hospice. We cover about 12 different counties, and when I joined the organization, we talked about that a lot. Our mission statement is, “We provide loving care to people with life-threatening illnesses, support to their families and service to the community in the spirit of enriching lives.” Tom Cigarran, the founder of Healthways, once said, “If you have a great mission and an okay business model, you’ll be incredibly successful. But if you have a great mission and a really good business model, you’ll do even greater.” I think Alive Hospice, as an organization, may have lost sight of its mission. So, when I started, we switched gears back to our core. Instead of talking about being 45 years old, we started talking about what it’s like to reimagine the end of life. If our job is to help enrich lives, how do we find joy? How do we make sure that we’ve had the conversations we want to have? And not on our final breath. In the last nine months, we have focused on making sure that we understand our mission — not just the words to it, but that we believe in it and that the decisions we make are about enriching the lives that we get to care for.
People often have the misconception that hospice is only for the elderly or the final days of life. Can you help clarify the misunderstanding?
Statistically, caring for the elderly population is a huge part of what we do because of the life expectancy of the typical human. But when we talk about changing the conversation or reimagining the end of life, there are things like, “When I pass, are there organizations I want to make sure are remembered?”
I read an article years ago that the best gift a mother can give to her daughter is her kitchen apron. As more of a modern-day thinker, I originally hated that. But as you raise your family, at least in my house, how I source food is very purposeful to me. I realize it’s part of my daughters’ and my relationship. That apron isn’t about “a woman must cook;” it’s more about the memories we’ve had doing things together. When we talk about leaving a legacy here, that’s one that’s pretty important to me. It’s not just about when to choose hospice care. How do you make sure that the legacy you are leaving behind — the conversations and the stories in your history — are there?
Without breaking HIPAA rules, we had a younger woman who was in our inpatient unit when I first started, and she had maybe 100 visitors during her time here — from babies crawling in the hallways to grandparents. People were sleeping in our family rooms. When I would walk through, I’d hear families laughing. There were plenty of tears, but there was also a lot of joy. If I were to pass at this age, that’s what I would want. I wouldn’t want to be in a hospital. Nothing against hospitals, but it’s a very different setting, and our hospital partners respect that it’s a very different setting. Most people in our care are in their homes, so being able to stay there with their families as long as possible is a big part of what we do.
What has it been like to grow into a new role while also handling and learning to navigate COVID-19?
To be in the “end of life” part of healthcare, and with COVID being a life-threatening illness, it fast-tracked a lot of things. Alive Hospice has a very strong culture, but I wanted to wake up the culture again — to understand our mission and remind people that’s who we are. On March 6, we had our first COVID task force meeting. It was a cross-functional team, and up until just recently, we met every single day, Monday through Sunday. We were as prepared as anyone else was for the pandemic, and in some cases, even more so, but we’re living in a very changing world. Our task force was everything from how we’re procuring protective equipment for our colleagues to training. Most of the patients that come to us typically do not have airborne diseases, so we had a lot of training to do just wearing the equipment. I think the hardest part has been the fear of not gaining control.
Coming in during COVID pushed the relationships I was making with the executive team. I think it showed that we have a strong culture; it also showed where we had some weaknesses that we rapidly had to fix. Operationally, it heightened my awareness of what we do well and where we can improve. I used to do a lot of healthcare strategy, and innovation was a big part of that. Being innovative during a pandemic is great — what probably saved our biscuit a couple of times was that we were able to think and change rapidly.
Tell us about the upcoming Butterfly Release event.
The Butterfly Release event is really something special, and last year, we started redefining what it could be. We are turning it into an event that shows there are different ways you can grieve; it’s not just about being sad or lonely. The butterfly is very symbolic of lasting love and the renewal of a new season. We want it to be comfortable — to talk out loud about being lonely.
Collectively, we came up with the idea of the butterfly house. You can buy the kit, buy one assembled, or buy one completely painted where all you have to do is hang it up. You can still purchase the butterfly, and we’re setting up a little drive-through with curbside pickup. We want to make it something really special, so everyone knows we put a lot of detail into it. It’s a sweet thing to do with your family, and it’s a fun thing to have in your yard, but eventually, people will start understanding that a butterfly house is symbolic of Alive. Hopefully, this will introduce the concept that it’s okay to start talking about the end of life. We talk about the last chapter being as special as the first chapter. The butterfly house is the symbol of our movement.
What is the best advice you’ve ever received?
It makes me get emotional thinking about it. The advice is to be there. Be present. When my daughter was born, I had just been named Vice President of Technology at a company, and there weren’t a lot of women in technology at that point. When I was at work, I was worried about what I had to do for my family at home. When I was at home, I was worried about work. So, I was always out of balance. The advice I was given was, “Be where you need to be, and the best you will show up.” I don’t know if I’ve mastered it, but I give myself forgiveness if I’m distracted at home about something with work. It’s okay to share with my family that I’m distracted, and if I don’t take care of it, I might be there physically, but I won’t be there emotionally. And vice versa.
Outside of faith, family and friends, what are three things you cannot live without?
Fitness — I need that endorphin high and dedication to myself; human touch, whether it’s physical or emotional; community — having a community that I can be accepted into. As women, it’s tough to want to have a career outside of the home and be a good mother and to be playful and be a wife. I feel like I have multiple communities with which I connect, whether that’s through the school my daughter attended, friends that my husband and I have made together, or people I ride bikes with.
Thank you, Kimberly. Alive Hospice is located at 1718 Patterson Street, Nashville, TN 37203. Curbside butterfly and butterfly house/kit pickup for the Butterfly Release event takes place on Saturday, July 11. Learn more and order yours HERE.
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