Alumna overseeing first pediatric hospice in the nation
For Kathy Nicholson Hull M.A. ’80, becoming the president of George Mark Children’s House Foundation, which is opening the first pediatric hospice in the nation, was no accident. Professional experience as a clinical psychologist at Children’s Hospital in Oakland and personal experience with the loss of two brothers prepared Hull for her difficult but important work.
Specializing in health psychology, Hull always had an interest in people’s ability to be proactive with their own health. While working at Children’s Hospital, she attended interdisciplinary team meetings to decide what to do with a child who was dying. Often, she says, there was a sense of failure from the hospital’s perspective when a child died. Hull and some colleagues recognized the need for more choices, more comfort, and ongoing care for patients outside of the hospital.
The hospice, named for her two brothers- George, who died of cancer at age 30, and Mark, who was killed in a car accident at age 16-is “the defining project in my life,” Hull says. The San Leandro hospice, which is scheduled to open in March, will provide an alternative for families with children who have life-threatening illnesses.
Until now, parents of critically ill children have had to choose between staying at the hospital or taking the child home. The hospice can be a transitional step that helps ease some of the burden on families.
Without much psychological support given to her family during her brother George’s death, Hull says that building the hospice has been a healing process for her family, especially with the involvement of her younger brother, John ’76, who, as a civil engineer, has been an advisor to the project.
The hospice has been professionally satisfying to Hull because she has created a model that she hopes other communities and health care providers will follow. George Mark House plans to overcome some of a hospital’s limitations by offering a dining room where families can gain a sense of community and network of support. Additionally, each room will be open to the outside; there is an extra bed for parents or siblings to use; and children will be able to bring their pets.
The focus on providing quality medical care remains, but comfort and psychosocial support for the families of ill children is also important.
Hull, who is married with eight children and three grandchildren, says she is grateful for her “enormously busy life,” which includes her new position on the SCU Board of Regents. Her father, Wilmot “Bill” Nicholson ’36, is also a regent.
Hull grew up in Santa Clara and used to ride her bike to campus on Saturdays with friends. She says being named to the Board of Regents is like coming full-circle. She credits her parents with instilling in her a desire to return something to the community and accept responsibility for the outcome of things-something she is doing at the hospice and at SCU.
For more information on the George Mark Children’s House, call 510-451-1999 or see www.georgemark.org.
– Erin Ryan ’03