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Mike  Bernhagen - Consider the Conversation

Mike Bernhagen - Consider the Conversation

When his mother, Rita, passed away from congestive heart failure and vascular dementia, Mike watched her slow, physical and cognitive decline as well the struggle of his family and healthcare providers. He was inspired to join the hospice movement and is currently the Director of Community Engagement & Care Partner Relations in a local hospice in WI. Mike co-produced, along with Terry Kaldhusdal, the multiple award- winning documentary "Consider the Conversation." He sees the potential it has to make a difference - both in terms of de-mystifying the dying experience and encouraging people to begin the conversation about their end-of-life wishes well before the finish line is in sight.

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Mike Bernhagen, Director of Community Engagement & Care Partner Relations with Rainbow Hospice Care in Jefferson, WI, is well-acquainted with the American medical system. From 1994 to 2003, he worked in business development for one of the Midwest's largest integrated healthcare delivery systems and multi-specialty group practices. During this decade, his time and energy were spent focusing on things like "physician incentive compensation plans", "revenue growth", "patient acquisition", and "referral relationship development." Those priorities changed in late 2003, however, when his mother, Rita, passed away from congestive heart failure and vascular dementia. Watching her slow, physical and cognitive decline as well the struggle of his family and her healthcare providers to deal with the process inspired him to join the hospice movement in 2004.

Since that time, Mike has been on the road working as a hospice advocate. Over the course of that journey, his travels have taken him to countless destinations - clinics, churches, hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, senior citizen centers, disease specific support groups, and private residences - where he's talked with literally thousands of people from all walks of life. But, it has been with the dying and their loved ones that his most meaningful and rewarding conversations have taken place. In fact, one of the great lessons he's learned from terminally ill people is that most are not afraid to die; rather they are afraid of the dying process. Some of the common fears they have are:

Am I going to suffer?
Am I going to be a burden upon my family?
Will I have to leave my home?
Will I die alone?
Will I still get to see my doctor?
Will I leave unfinished business?

In his documentary film, Mike sees the potential it has to make a difference - both in terms of de-mystifying the dying experience and encouraging people to begin the conversation about their end-of-life wishes well before the finish line is in sight. Mike and his wife, Denise, reside in Waukesha, Wisconsin along with their two children, ages 14 and 10.

    "Engaging. Meaningful. Caring. Those are the first three words that come to my mind in regard to our event. Mike and Terry combined to make our time together a memorable experience that helped all in attendance shape their path forward."

    - Wisconsin Chapter of the World Presidents' Organization (WPO)

    "After attending one of their "Unplugged" talks at a state conference, our leadership team felt compelled to bring Terry and Mike to our service area to host a major Theatrical Film Presentation and Community Conversation event. From that night forward, their work and personal message have continued to resonate throughout the medical, faith and lay communities."

    - Sharon S. Richardson Community Hospice

    "Our health system had the distinct honor of working with Mike and Terry to premiere their film in suburban Milwaukee. The positive energy in the theater that night was palpable as evidenced by the sold out show, standing ovation and hundreds of requests for advance directives. The experience was the first in a series of events that has begun to change the culture of end-of-life care in our organization and throughout Wisconsin."

    - ProHealth Care Clinic Division

    "Mike Bernhagen's introduction and presentation mesmerized our conference audience and set a perfect tone for the thought-provoking documentary, Consider the Conversation, which raises profound questions about the long-avoided topic of healthcare decision making at end-of-life."

    - Agrace HospiceCare