Elevating one’s humanity as we transition

Laura Lane McKinnon, Hospice Savannah – Savannah, Georgia

Feature | Savannah, Georgia | 08 February 2023
As the Director of Development for Hospice Savannah, Laura Lane McKinnon believes that her upbringing and roots in the Midwest shaped her career path and her desire to provide care for people. ILO Photo/ Katherine Arntzen
“I don't have a medical background, but what I do have is an appreciation for fellow members of my community. I do believe that facing death, shouldn't be something that we're all scared of,” says Laura Lane McKinnon, Director of Development and Marketing at Hospice Savannah, based in Savannah Georgia. In her role, she assists with event planning and coordination, fundraising, as well as appeal and grant writing.

“I am proud to say that I work for the area’s oldest and only non- profit hospice,” declares Laura Lane with pride in her voice. “Our philosophy around end-of-life is much more holistic and patient-driven than the corporate for-profit hospices.” she adds.

“We have patients that we care for in their homes, and some that we care for in our in-patient unit. We also have what we call the healing arts. We have a massage therapist, we have a music therapist, we have a story-keeper which is very near and dear to my own heart. I think that's a tremendous gift that we can give our ourselves and our families is to have someone do a life review. We record those stories and pass them to the families as a legacy,” she proudly describes of the services offered at the Hospice.

Over the span of 30 years, Laura Lane has worked for six different organizations, with increasing levels of responsible which all have a common thread. “In every instance, I'm trying to do whatever I can to make sure that there are opportunities, grace, and humility for my fellow citizens,” she says reflectively.
Hospice Savannah applies a holistic and patient-driven philosophy in addressing end-of-life care. Their approaches include healing arts, massage therapy, music therapy and virtual reality to ensure their patients have the dignity through-out this transition. ILO Photo/ Laura Lane McKinnon

Although she studied to be a photographer, Laura Lane admits it was not her calling. “I've always been a history buff and was always fascinated by history and biographies.” She ended up graduating with an art history major and her first job was trying to fundraise for exhibitions and children's programming.

“When I started, I was working in education and with children and then went on to preservation and then higher education. And while those were more lucrative, they weren't as fulfilling. I moved, then on to homelessness. And then I worked with adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities. And now currently I'm working at end-of-life.”

When asked about how work impacts her life, Laura Lane says “I'm more drained by paperwork and busy work than the patient interaction or the family interaction. Those are the things that even if they are difficult, and even if they are challenging, make me feel like it's all worthwhile.”

“I think I channel some of that into the grant-writing, preparing articles for a variety of publications as well as the appeal letters that I write. I try very hard to represent people, earnestly and honestly, not from the point of view who I want them to be, but as who they are,” she emphasizes.

In terms of the work that she does and the skills needed, Laura Lane says “first and foremost you need to have empathy as well as the ability to read and write and communicate well. You must have that inner motivation, be able to plan strategically and a genuine drive and passion toward helping others. It can't be for your own-your own glory.”

Laura Lane was certain that she would be a photographer and attended the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). Working at Hospice Savannah has allowed her to combine her academic studies with her passion, creativity, and desire to help people to solve critical problems in a humane and caring manner. ILO Photo/ Bunny Ware
Laura Lane says that her work is varied and at different times calls for different skills such as “being able to raise funds, plan events, write grants and appeal letters, so that everyone in Savannah whether they have private insurance or not, they must have the same level of care, and the same level of dignity at end of life. It’s also my job to make sure that people in our community understand what someone is facing as a patient or as a family member of a patient, and that they have empathy for that situation and for that person so much so that they will part with their hard-earned dollars to help support it.”

Working with non-profits Laura Lane has learned many things, but there is one lesson that particularly stands out for her. “Never create a program to secure a grant. Find the grant that funds what you already do. If you create something because you found a very lucrative grant odds are it's either not something your community needs or it is something that you won't be able to sustain when that funding inevitably ends,” she states empathically.

As a veteran who has had a long career in the non-profit world, McKinnon says that she worries about the future of non-profits. “Our society, our culture depends so heavily on the work of non-profits. But almost none of us encourage our children to consider working in them,” she says.

“We don't incentivize the best and the brightest to go into the non-profit world where we're trying to tackle the problems that the for-profit world has either created, can't fix, or ignores,” she confidently affirms.

Reflecting on the importance and powerful countervailing emotions that one experiences in hospice care, Laura Lane shares a story of a young man, who right before getting married, started feeling unwell.

“It turns out he was diagnosed with cancer and was too sick to go on his honeymoon. So he and his wife did their honeymoon through the virtual reality program offered at the hospice. They were able to go to Paris wearing an Oculus. They were able to have this experience together before he passed,” she states with a bittersweet memory of that moment.