InterView – DeSha McLeod, Community Hospice


InterView
By Chris Murphy
DeSha McLeod
Community Hospice

Death with dignity is probably something every one of us wishes for. Death is a certainty, but it comes to us in many ways. When death is caused by cancer or some aggressive disease, not only is it terrible for the patient, it can also one of the most difficult and stressful issues for family and friends. At some point, when you are out of options, compassionate end of life can be a salvation. Community Hospice means so much to so many. There are so many educational programs that can be helpful to any family and the more you learn about Hospice, the more important it is to our community. Founded in 1979, Community Hospice celebrates 40 years of caring this year.

Running these organizations is a complicated job, as the mission of Community Hospice is to deliver care, regardless of the ability to pay, so outreach to the community is a constant activity and fundraising is endlessly required. The team at Community Hospice have created inventive ways to reach out to the community, from the “Before I Die” kiosks to the Over the Ledge rope repelling challenge and so many more. DeSha McLeod has been at the helm of Community Hospice since 2013. Arriving in Modesto from Mississippi, DeSha has a long career in Hospice management and she earned her MBA and BS in Accounting at William Carey University. She manages a great team and she has really become a strong part of the Modesto community. Let’s get to know DeSha.

ModestoView: What was it that attracted you to Community Hospice?
DeSha McLeod: After being informed that I had been selected as one of the top candidates by the Selection Committee, I was faced with making the difficult and thoughtful decision to travel to Modesto for a first-round interview. After much prayer and encouragement from my daughters, I decided to continue in the selection process and arrived in Modesto. As cheesy as it sounds, it is true. Walking into the offices of Community Hospice felt like home. Everyone was very warm and welcoming. But more importantly, there was a feeling of need for leadership to move the organization forward. That feeling was confirmed verbally by so many and in my heart, I felt that I could help.

MV: How did you discover the field of hospice care and management?
DM: About seven months after my dear Grandfather passed away on hospice, I was asked by the owner of a regional home health provider to start a hospice division for his organization. I quickly declined due to the atrociously, heartbreaking experience my family endured during my Grandfather’s time on hospice. After giving every reason why I was not the person to establish a start-up hospice agency, they asked me to reconsider. Hours and days of research later, I informed the owner I would undertake the task with a few requirements: (a) patients’ and families’ needs would always come first, (b) we would not compromise on care and services, and lastly (c) hospice staff would make a visit to the patient every time they called and/or a need was expressed. So, in honor of my Grandfather, my journey into the hospice industry was born and my passion for the wonderful compassionate care hospice provides has only grown.

MV: End of life is always such a complicated conversation; how do you make it more personal and helpful?
DM: End of life conversations are difficult and uncomfortable for all of us. It does not make for good dinner discussions or party conversations. But having the courage to discuss your and/or your family member’s wishes for their healthcare is applauded and can certainly relieve many burdens and agonizing decisions later on and long before a person is diagnosed with a life-limiting illness. These conversations can be rewarding and a relief when asking about a person’s wishes compassionately and with a listening heart.

MV: What thing or issue do you think is most misunderstood about hospice care?
DM: One of the greatest myths of hospice care is that it is only for people that have a short time left to live and are dying within the next several days or a couple of weeks. The most consistent feedback we receive from the families and/or caregivers of our patients is that they wish they had reached out to obtain hospice care and services for their loved one much earlier stating, “I don’t know why we waited so long.” Hospice services focus on enhancing quality of life for those with an advanced life-limiting illness, providing physical, emotional and spiritual support for patients and their loved ones.

MV: How does it feel, know that you are helping people in some of the worst times?
DM: Grateful. In what other service line or industry can you give patients and families/caregivers assistance, compassion, kindness, hope, time and comfort during their, or their loved ones, tentative, and often frightful, times of their life? As I am not a clinician, it is such a privilege to be able to provide the resources, tools and encouragement to our amazing clinicians that provide hospice and palliative care services and support to our patients and caregivers. It is a most rewarding way to spend my days.

MV: Community Hospice has a robust educational program; how does this help people prepare?
DM: Knowledge is power. Everyone is entitled to make their own choice about how they want to walk their end of life journey. Having a full understanding about what health care choices and types of care are available at the end of life, empowers individuals to make informed decisions about their own healthcare.

MV: How can people get involved with Community Hospice?
DM: Volunteers are at the heart of Community Hospice and we welcome your time and talents. We would not be able to provide the services we do each day without the dedication and support of our volunteers. There are many ways to get involved as well. Volunteering provides the opportunity to meet like-minded people, get hands on experience, earn service credits and feel a sense of pride in your accomplishments for helping those in need. Opportunities include; hospice care support, grief support services support, fundraising/special events, marketing, retail operations and more. To learn more about volunteer opportunities one may call 209.578.6300 or visit hospiceheart.org/volunteer.

MV: Your team has developed some creative fundraising projects; how do these connect our community?
DM: It is our hope that our variety of fundraising projects will provide the opportunity to engage people of all ages, backgrounds, talents and abilities. Our events provide our organization the opportunity to not only raise awareness and funds for Community Hospice; it also provides us the opportunity to educate our community members on the importance of the services offered and the benefits they can provide. There will come a time in each one of our lives that we will be faced with difficult decisions for ourselves or our loved ones. The knowledge of resources available can ease the journey ahead, enhancing quality of life and allowing us to focus on what matters most.

MV: Community Hospice is 40 years old this year. How will you celebrate and how can people get involved?
DM: We feel so humbled to be celebrating 40 years of service. We are acknowledging this great milestone by taking a look back at our heritage and sharing the stories of many of those that have helped shape us to who we are today through our 40 short stories campaign. We will also be acknowledging our anniversary at all of our events including all of our major events, i.e. Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon, Foundation Gala, Golf Fore Community Hospice, Over the Edge, Fantasy of Trees trilogy, and others throughout the year. We have so much gratitude for everyone in our communities that has touched and been a part of the legacy and success of Community Hospice. This year we really want to take a moment to reflect and share our gratitude for each person that has supported our mission.

MV: What one big thing do you think people should know about hospice?
DM: Clinical research has repeatedly proven that hospice care and services prolong patients’ lives. It is our hope that all people gain the acceptance and understanding that hospice provides hope, compassion, time and quality of life. Hospice is not about giving up … it’s about living.

MV: If budget were no issue, what would you like to create or develop for Community Hospice?
DM: It is a consistent, challenging task as we strive to meet the evolving needs of our community. There is so much loss in our communities, too many that travel their final weeks and months alone, too many that walk their grief journey alone, and too many that struggle with a serious illness without any support or resources. There are many things Community Hospice would do if budget constraints were not an issue; provide palliative care services to anyone, insurance or not; develop and establish a Community Grief Center, a special place that would meet the needs of all our residents that are traveling their grief journey; and, open additional branches to better meet the needs of our patients, families and communities.

MV: What do you enjoy most about living in Modesto?
DM: Modesto is my home, and I most enjoy the sense of community that exists in our city.

MV: Our final question: Beatles or Stones?
DM: Definitely —- the Beatles

Celebrating 40 Years of service, Community Hospice is the largest and oldest nonprofit hospice agency in the Central Valley. Since 1979, Community Hospice has cared for thousands of friends and neighbors offering compassionate and quality care, education and support to terminally ill patients and families, regardless of ability to pay. Care extends to over 2,000 patients each year in private homes, skilled nursing facilities, retirement communities and at the 16-bed inpatient Community Hospice Alexander Cohen Hospice House. Community Hospice also provides grief support services to anyone in the community. For more information, please call 209. 578.6300 or visit hospiceheart.org

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About the Author:

Chris Murphy is the President and CEO of Sierra Pacific Warehouse Group and Publisher and Founder of ModestoView Inc. Chris worked globally in the cycling industry returning to Modesto in 1996. He is also the founder of the Modesto Historic Graffiti Cruise Route, Legends of the Cruise Walk of Fame, Modesto Rockin’ Holiday, the Modesto Music History Organization and co-founder of the Modesto Area Music Association. Chris is married to his artist wife Rebecca since 1985 and has two daughters Madison and Abigail, both graduating from Modesto High and UC Berkeley. He is lead singer and guitarist for his band, Third Party that donates their performances to non-profits.