2022 Health Care Heroes: M Health Fairview's Mark Spitzack brings comfort to grieving families – Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal – The Business Journals

Compelled by a desire to console and support grieving families, Mark Spitzack developed an outreach program at M Health Fairview Masonic Children’s Hospital that aims to offer healing and comfort to patients’ families after they have suffered a profound loss.
As the coordinator of perinatal and pediatric support projects and department business coordinator at the Minneapolis hospital, Spitzack formalized and expanded a once-grassroots effort. Working closely with hospital leaders and the patient family advisory council, Spitzack sends out messages to grieving families at the two-, six- and 12-month anniversaries of their loss. Families in mourning receive customized cards bearing the image of a vibrant tree, similar to a tree at the hospital on which families and staff hang bells during the annual Pediatric Day of Remembrance.
Spitzack also sends to families wooden tree-shaped mementos custom-made by St. Paul-based Woodchuck USA, with the promise that for each memento, Woodchuck will plant a seedling in memory of the patient at its Cushing, Minn., reforestation site.
Spitzack also helped set up mother’s milk donation depots at four M Health Fairview hospitals for babies in need, and helped organize the system’s outpatient donor milk dispensary.
Hot topic in my field: Health care inequities for Black, Indigenous and other people of color, particularly in areas like women’s health and infant mortality
Best stress reliever: Playing the pipe organ and cooking Indian food (not at the same time)
What has been your biggest professional accomplishment? It really meant a lot to me to receive an award in 2020 from our hospital’s parent and family advisory council — the inaugural Impact Award — for my work in expanding our pediatric bereavement follow-up, using feedback from these parents and others. These are the primary caregivers of a pediatric patient — their parents and families. We are just helpers. I like to picture patients (or in the case of pediatric patients, parents and other guardians) as sitting in the driver’s seat of their own care.
Looking back at the challenges of the past year, what was a bright spot? Professionally, I was thrilled to be asked to support and promote parents who breastfeed by taking a position on the Minnesota Breastfeeding Coalition’s board and by helping to set up local collection depots and a dispensary for pasteurized human donor milk. Personally, I shopped for and eventually bought my first house, closing in January! Also, thanks to the expansion of the Public Service Student Loan Forgiveness program, near the end of the year my enormous graduate school student debt was completely erased.
What was the biggest challenge or low point? Professionally, just as the pandemic got underway, my manager went in for a routine surgery to correct damage done by childhood treatment for a rare cancer. He developed complications, fought his way back over many months, but then died unexpectedly one week before going home from the hospital. Personally, in 2020 alone, I lost my favorite aunt, a dear uncle and my mother. One of my family members suffered a miscarriage; then another lost her full-term baby to stillbirth.
What was a key takeaway from the past year that will guide your perspective and/or actions going forward? I learned that I am much more resilient than I thought, and from the pandemic and resulting challenges to health care work, I learned that we all need to do better at two things: managing our stress and being kinder to each other. Using the airplane oxygen mask analogy, that means you need to take care of yourself first so you can effectively and calmly help others. The best way through life — and through a pandemic — is together. Going it alone never works.
Coordinator of perinatal and pediatric support projects and department business coordinator, M Health Fairview
Education: Bachelor of Arts, Concordia University, St. Paul; Master of Sacred Music, Luther Seminary, St. Paul
Board memberships: Executive board-at large director, Minnesota Breastfeeding Coalition
Volunteer activities: Church choir
Join us for our second annual Health Care Heroes awards!
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