‘Betty’ Bulen Dies at 98; Nurse Led 4 Elizabeths Founding The Elizabeth Hospice

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Elizabeth “Betty” Bulen. Photo via The Elizabeth Hospice

Updated at 1 p.m. Dec. 6, 2017

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Elizabeth “Betty” Bulen, whose brainchild became San Diego County’s longest-running nonprofit hospice program, died Saturday at her home in Escondido, it was announced Monday.

She was 98 and under her own group’s care for several weeks, according to The Elizabeth Hospice spokeswoman Lisa Marcolongo.

Family members were with her when she passed, Marcolongo said. Bulen wasn’t battling a specific illness.

“Betty was the catalyst for a long tradition of caring for those facing a serious illness,” said Jan Jones, president and CEO of the hospice, still based in Escondido but with locations in Carlsbad, San Diego and Temecula.

“Her aspiration to bring comfort to those nearing their end-of-life journey will live on as her philosophy and desire to help others continues to inspire the team of staff and volunteers here at The Elizabeth Hospice.”

In 1978, “hospice” wasn’t well-known.

But Bulen, a registered nurse, invited three of her friends — Betty “Elizabeth” Benz, Ann Elizabeth Warren and Kay “Elizabeth” Austin — to work with her in establishing an organization of “compassionate volunteers, devoted to offering care to the terminally ill and their families,” said the hospice.

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(A hospice spokeswoman said Benz and Austin also have died, but wasn’t sure of Warren. They’ve lost contact with her.)

Bulen, who established the first hospice in North San Diego County, said in 1978: “I think the main reason hospices have not been that popular in the United States is that Americans have an unhealthy attitude toward death. As the late English historian Arnold Toynbee said, ‘Americans consider death to be un-American.’”

An Army nurse in the Philippines during World War II, Bulen later married an Air Force surgeon and raised five children.

She received the United Way Silver Bowl award in recognition of her dedication to making her hospice dream a reality.

In 1995 she was named the National Hospice Organization’s Volunteers Are the Foundation of Hospice Award.

Bulen and Benz visited the St. Christopher and St. Barnabas hospices in London.

“Inspired, they came home to organize the first agency meeting and develop an inaugural board of directors,” the hospice said. “In less than a year, 20 hospice volunteers were meeting the special needs of eight terminally ill patients in North San Diego County.”

The Elizabeth Hospice was incorporated in August 1978 and opened its first office – a small house on Kalmia Street in Escondido — with six staff members in 1979.

The Elizabeth Hospice says it was one of only 59 hospice care programs operating in the United States in 1978.

Today, The Elizabeth Hospice is the largest community-based nonprofit program in the region with more than 350 paid staff and 400 volunteers, caring for patients and families throughout San Diego County and the Inland Empire.

A memorial service and celebration of life are planned. Details are pending.

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