High Peaks Hospice would like to honor our Medical Director, Dr. Curt Gedney for National Doctors Day by sharing information about him with the team.
An extensive education and career that started in Ministry introduced Dr. Gedney to a personal interest in end of life care, followed by fulfilling his childhood dream of going to medical school, becoming a family medicine physician, and then, pulling everything together, ultimately becoming a hospice physician and Medical Director and joining our team in July 2020.
Dr. Curt Gedney was brought up with an evangelical faith whose family was very active in the church. By the time he exited childhood, his service values were very well-formed and he went on to complete seminary school.
Initial exposure to death and dying
His initial exposure to death and dying took place while he was an American Baptist Minister in San Diego, California. It was his first job out of seminary and during his six-year tenure, he had three distinct individuals who made a lasting impact. The first was a young boy with lymphoma who he supported from the age of 9-11 years old through treatments that were ultimately stopped after proving to no longer be effective. Timmy was amazingly open and Dr. Gedney experienced much of the process while talking to and supporting the young boy and his family. Dr. Gedney spoke at the funeral in a huge hall which was so painful yet so glorious. It proved to be a formative experience that set the stage for much of his future. The second exposure was with Admiral Senn, former commander of the USS Cincinnati during the Normandy invasion, a unique individual whose whole apartment was set up like the inside of a captain’s quarters. Admiral Senn came to the church to be baptized and as the minister, Dr. Gedney performed an immersion baptism. His wish to be baptized likely came from his diagnosis of head and neck cancer. Admiral Senn later was admitted and ultimately passed in the local VA hospital. His third exposure to death and dying was with a very active member of the church. This church member who participated in the board meetings, events, and more was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and shortly after, passed.
These experiences led him to take a 1-year course in Clinical Pastoral Education – a course that certifies ministers to work in hospitals as chaplains. At the time he was not sure what he would do with it but knew it was important to him. It was at that time that he met his wife Nancy who was also very drawn to working with those with disease and who are dying. It was also at this time in Tucson that he decided to leave the ministry and go to medical school, a dream since childhood.
Shifting professions through education and experience
During his very first day on campus at the Medical College of Wisconsin, just after his admissions interview, while walking by the cancer office he saw a poster that they were offering a summer oncology program. He stopped in to request information and instead received an immediate call back from who would turn out to be the most formative person in his life, David Weissman, MD, the founding Director of the Geriatric and Palliative Medicine program at the medical college. He spent the summer side by side with Dr. Weissman going on hospice visits, assisting with curriculum, and more. Dr. Weissman went on to become nationally recognized for his work implementing new education strategies for pain management and palliative care and the time together proved to be quite the experience for Dr. Gedney. From that moment on his life’s direction was set… Dr. Gedney was going to work in the field of Hospice and Palliative Care.
After graduating from Medical School, to assist in the repayment of his school debt, he went on to fulfill a commitment to serve an underserved area for a three-year period. He fulfilled his commitment plus more by working six years full-time in family medicine and adding on working part-time as a hospice Medical Director.
For 20 years he continued to have a career working in hospice, becoming a full-time Medical Director first in Idaho where he got the bulk of his hospice experience, then in Arizona, followed by providing palliative care and training physicians in hospice and palliative care at MercyONE in Iowa. He received the Hospice Person of the Year Award in 2008 from the Idaho State Hospice Association. During this time he gained extensive experience in home and inpatient hospice, as well as palliative care in hospital and outpatient settings all the way up until moving to upstate NY.
The move to upstate NY and joining High Peaks Hospice
Due to religious commitments, Dr. Gedney and his wife felt compelled to move to our area of upstate NY, not far from the Canadian border and in close proximity to their religious group. Back in his time in AZ, his wife Nancy and he became involved with a Buddhist group and they have since committed themselves to a path dedicated to relieving suffering wherever it arises. He found basic teachings of Buddhism similar to those of Jesus in the idea that the primary motivator is to decrease the suffering of living beings, that life continues beyond our time here on earth, and that karma exists and what you do has consequences. One difference with Buddhism is a focus to look outside of ourselves, let go of our own needs and desires and release control, and replace it with a wider, all-encompassing view of love, kindness, and acceptance.
In a desire to find a new organization in upstate or western NY to put his extensive experience to work, he sent letters to all hospices in the region and the next day received a call from our High Peaks Hospice Director Nick George, who was just about to post a listing for our next Medical Director. He found the connection to High Peaks Hospice unbelievable. All the pieces slid perfectly into place from the timing, to the location, to meeting with our Director, to relocating to the heart of the Adirondacks – finding a beautiful property in Westport with views to the west and an easy commute to Elizabethtown and much of our Northern catchment area.
In July 2020, early into the pandemic, Dr. Gedney officially joined our team as our new Medical Director. Almost two years later he continues to love his job and embraces the challenges that innately come along with it such as being the largest hospice geographically in the United States, second only to a hospice in Alaska. He stated that our Assistant Medical Director, Dr. Noelle Stevens, our Director of Hospice services, Marie Marvullo, and our Executive Director, Nick George have been a joy to work with.
Maintaining a focus on the future
During Dr. Gedney’s time in hospice, he has seen and understands many of the barriers to individuals receiving proper hospice and end-of-life care. He has seen the good and the bad and wants to ensure that hospice care continues to be available to all who qualify. He is committed to educating local physicians with when and how to refer patients and what proper documentation is required to allow for the hospice certification needed to bring them onto hospice care. He is equally committed to following the ever-changing certification requirements to ensure our organization is following the rules and while helping as many families as possible, doing his part to ensure that we will be around for generations to come. He has seen other hospices get hammered. Many hospices take on patients for financial benefits and thrive financially by bringing on patients who do not truly qualify yet. These same hospices, when they decide not to press their luck, drop patients after a couple of years when they view the patient as a risk for an audit. This is quite a disservice for the patient and their family and risky for the organization as there are heavy penalties, many of which have resulted in the closure of hospices, by taking on patients who do not yet qualify.
Dr. Gedney is happy with the support and understanding he receives from the board, our leadership team, and our medical staff, and we should all feel secure in knowing that our Medical Director is leading us properly by following all current regulations. We here at High Peaks Hospice are equally happy and grateful to have him on board as part of our hospice family.
Happy National Doctors’ Day to our Medical Director, Dr. Curt Gedney, and our Assistant Medical Director, Dr. Noelle Stevens!