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Breaking Boundaries in Parkinson's Care: The Vision of Ruth Hagestuen

Ruth Hagestuen on vacation with two friends

Since every person has a unique Parkinson’s disease (PD) experience, building a diverse team of health experts allows them to manage their PD symptoms and progression — and maximize quality of life. No one understood this concept better than Ruth Hagestuen RN, MA, the founder of the Parkinson’s Foundation Team Training program, an interactive program designed to train healthcare teams in PD care.

Ruth passed away on February 23, 2024. This article is dedicated to Ruth and how she shaped Parkinson’s care, ultimately evolving how the Parkinson’s Foundation works to bring access to care to more people with Parkinson’s.

Ruth Hagestuen at ATTP Faculty Training in 2017

In a 2018 podcast episode, Ruth spoke about the Team Training program and its design. “The reason we decided to launch this program is that people with Parkinson’s were going for care and were not able to find professionals that knew PD well enough to give state-of-the-art care,” Ruth said. “We want every person that goes to the program to understand the best we know to date about Parkinson’s.”  

In 2000, Ruth joined the Parkinson’s Foundation as Vice President and Program Director, where she launched the Team Training program in 2003. She worked with affiliates nationally and internationally to develop strategies to better meet the needs of the PD community through research, education, care and outreach. 

2023 marked 20 years for the Parkinson’s Foundation Team Training program. Since inception, more than 2,900 health care professionals have graduated from the program, which has been hosted in cities across the U.S. and offered virtually.

Ruth Hagestuen at CPP in 2007

Ruth’s dream to train professionals continues to reach further, as Team Training alumni collectively treat nearly 200,000 people with Parkinson’s across the country each year.

Her legacy continues to impact people living with PD and the healthcare professionals who complete Team Training — including neurologists, nurses, social workers, rehab therapists and others.

“Ruth was a visionary in the Parkinson’s disease space. For decades, as a nurse she personally brought comfort and care to thousands of people living with the disease during her career, she ran one of the early leading PD centers in the U.S., and through Team Training, she helped train thousands of healthcare professionals,” said Eli Pollard, Parkinson’s Foundation Vice President and Chief Training and Education Officer. “She achieved so much and will forever inspire us at the Foundation to do more.”

Ruth Hagestuen with 5 friends

Ruth’s dedication to helping people goes back to the beginning on her nursing career when she served as an Air Force nurse in the Vietnam War. Afterwards, she lived and worked for 13 years as a nurse and partner in developing health care programs in Madagascar and Bangladesh. 

In 1987, she accepted the position as nurse coordinator and program manager of the multidisciplinary team in the Parkinson’s clinic at Methodist Hospital, which ultimately expanded to become the Struthers Parkinson’s Center, a Parkinson’s Foundation Center of Excellence, where Ruth worked as Program Director.

“Ruth was tenacious in her willingness and endurance in the pursuit to improve Parkinson’s care,” said Denise Beran, Parkinson’s Foundation Associate Director of Professional Programs. “It has been a privilege to know Ruth as a colleague and as a friend over the past 20 years, and it’s an honor to keep her legacy of professional training alive, continuously improving, seeking the best proven therapies and outcomes to share with health care professionals so they can provide the best possible care.”

Ruth Hagestuen at WPC in 2006

As a speaker and writer, Ruth co-authored the book Health Connect, a Practical Guide to Community Outreach. She also co-authored two publications based on the effectiveness of team care education and facilitated outreach to underserved communities to provide culturally competent, interdisciplinary PD care — nationally and internationally. She was also the Parkinson’s Foundation consultant to the Edmond J Safra National Parkinson’s Wellness Initiative.

Ruth was also active in the International Parkinson’s and Movement Disorders Society, where she served on the Pan-American Section Education Committee.

Kind Words from Our Parkinson’s Community

“Ruth embodied holistic nursing, recognizing the importance of looking beyond the physical symptoms of Parkinson’s. Her work in promoting interprofessional team care as best practice in Parkinson’s forever changed the landscape of care for families living with Parkinson’s.”

- Joan Gardner, RN, BSN, former colleague and life-long friend, former nursing faculty of Team Training

“Ruth was a creative individual with a passion for ensuring that all individuals with Parkinson’s received comprehensive interdisciplinary care. Her life’s work will always be recognized and celebrated within the Parkinson’s community. I am honored to call her my colleague and friend.”

- Rose Wichmann, PT, former colleague and life-long friend, former PT faculty of Team Training

“When I think about Ruth, she is the reminder to follow what you believe in, and in the end, you reach something even better and bigger than you imagined. She was a force within nursing, patient care and education. She advocated not only the education of people with Parkinson’s and their care partners, but also the education and growth of other medical professionals.

- Jenna Iseringhausen, MS, NP, AGPCNP-BC, mentored by Ruth and currently a nurse faculty of Team Training

The Parkinson’s Foundation remembers Ruth’s contribution to the Parkinson’s care field and her direct influence in helping shape Foundation programs that make life better for people with Parkinson’s. Ruth is survived by her wife, Bonnie, her children and grandchildren. 

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