Local Philanthropist Continues to Pay it Forward
By Eric Breier
Ruth Westreich has always been a caregiver.
Westreich’s father died when she was young and, without any siblings, she was solely responsible for taking care of her ill mother.
“When I was doing my significant caregiving, there was nothing available to help me walk through that journey, solve problems and provide a quality of life,” Westreich said.
Westreich is committed to helping others find an easier path to assisting loved ones in need of care. She is the founder and president of The Westreich Foundation, which creates partnerships, collaborations and consortiums with a focus on prevention of disease, whole person patient-centered care, environmental toxicities, food safety and vaccine safety. Westreich also is a longtime generous supporter of the CSU Institute for Palliative Care, which launched at Cal State San Marcos in 2012.
Palliative care, which provides care that optimizes quality of life for people with a serious or chronic illness, has always resonated with Westreich, going back to when she was a caregiver for her mother.
Westreich recalls graduating from high school on a Friday and starting a new job the following Monday so she could help provide for her mother. A couple of years later, having gotten her footing in the working world, Westreich started attending a Los Angeles design college in the evenings. Her employer was a small, family-owned company. Westreich was a valued employee and, knowing her situation, the company paid for her schooling. All they asked for in return was that Westreich pay it forward.
Not only has she been paying it forward ever since, she has undoubtedly done it at a level her former employers never could have imagined.
Jennifer Ballentine, the executive director of the CSU Institute for Palliative Care, has seen firsthand the impact of Westreich’s generosity.
“Ruth has been a tireless supporter of the Institute and of palliative care,” Ballentine said. “She has been very generous with her time, talent and treasure, opening her heart and home on numerous occasions. She is a delightful person and an inspiring presence. We are honored by her support.”
It never made sense to Westreich that the health care system virtually required a person to get sick and have myriad symptoms and problems before addressing their health. That’s one of the reasons why she is so passionate about integrative medicine, which combines conventional medicine with evidence-based complementary approaches to provide care to the whole person.
Westreich realized early on that she could be a connector and bridge for different disciplines such as integrative, functional, palliative and natural medicines.
“I think we’re closer than ever to having these disciplines not only talk to each other but want to be involved at a very high level with each other,” she said.
Palliative care is among the disciplines with which Westreich has long been associated. She was a board member for San Diego Hospice and the Institute for Palliative Medicine and was close friends with the group’s vice president of education, research and organizational development, Helen McNeal. When the organization closed, McNeal told Westreich about a new opportunity that she was going to pursue – becoming the founding executive director of the CSU Institute for Palliative Care. Westreich had just one question: “How can I help?”
The Westreich Foundation was one of the early supporters that helped make the CSU Institute for Palliative Care a success. Westreich was confident from the start that the Institute would thrive, not only because of McNeal but also through the leadership of CSUSM President Karen Haynes.
“Karen Haynes is one of the most forward-thinking people that I know,” Westreich said. “She was willing to take a chance. Many things aligned. It was the right timing and the right people.”
Since its launch, the Institute has developed over 100 educational offerings. Through online instructor-led and self-paced courses, it has educated more than 9,300 current health professionals, providing critical tools and skills. It has also introduced palliative care to more than 10,000 future health care professionals and more than 12,500 community members. The Institute is continuing to grow, and Ballentine noted that it is even partnering with Westreich in the development of a new course.
“Palliative care is not necessarily hospice care,” Westreich said. “It can be, but it’s way bigger than that. It’s looking for a quality of life when a cure as we know it is not there for people. So, you’re looking at people with any chronic conditions. It can be Parkinson’s, it can be ALS, it can be heart issues, it can be rheumatoid arthritis, any of those things that probably aren’t curable as we know it today.
“But a good quality of life is available for those people looking at certain things, trying to ameliorate as many of the conditions that are hurting them and then adding things that palliate and bring comfort and joy.”
Eric Breier, Public Affairs Specialist
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