The Bee’s latest story attacking the integrity of Community Hospice CEO DeSha McLeod does a disservice to her as well as the organization’s employees and volunteers by giving public voice to a few bitter former employees to vent their personal attacks. Though I’m no longer a member of the Community Hospice board of directors, I feel compelled to defend McLeod and her team from such mean-spirited and unwarranted assertions.
In 2013, Community Hospice conducted a nationwide search to identify a leader with the right combination of vision, proven business skills, industry experience and compassion to successfully guide the organization into the future. I was part of the committee that recruited and hired McLeod, who quickly emerged from a field of more than 70 applicants. It was as clear then as it is today that she possesses all the qualities we were looking for.
Change can be difficult for some people. Most of us who have worked in business environments understand that. Some are unwilling or unable to adapt to new managers who introduce new policies and procedures into the workplace or see the need to restructure operations. In some cases, unhappy employees will choose to move to different organizations or their work performance will no longer meet the expectations of the employer. There are examples of both among McLeods critics.
Many of the complaints referenced in Sunday’s story date back to 2014 or earlier. As a member of the Community Hospice at that time, I know those concerns were taken seriously by McLeod and my fellow directors, as they should have been. A staff survey was done by an outside consultant, an employee council was formed, training was expanded, procedures were evaluated and appropriate changes were implemented – just as any responsible business would do.
Why any of that is front-page news more than two years later mystifies me.
The former employees fixate on turnover rates, yet manipulate the numbers and ignore the real statistics. Businesses or nonprofits like Community Hospice that consistently recruit and hire talented, quality people also recognize that some will leave – for more money or professional opportunity elsewhere, to relocate because a spouse has changed jobs, to retire or, yes, even because they are unhappy.
Community Hospice has about 270 paid staff members. From July 2015 to July 2016, the turnover rate among all staffers was 15 percent. By comparison, it ranged from 25 percent in 2002 to 19.3 percent in 2008, when the Great Recession hit.
The critics suggest turnover among nurses and clinical staff members is high, even though there is no evidence to support that contention. The Hospital & Healthcare Compensation Service – an independent agency – compiles numbers annually. In 2015, regional turnover for organizations employing nurses averaged 24.11 percent. Community Hospice’s number was 20.75 percent.
Community Hospice was a respected and successful organization before McLeod arrived in July 2013. She and her staff have helped make it even better.
Despite the complexity of the Affordable Care Act, which has reduced reimbursements for care, other revenue sources have been enhanced. Under McLeod’s leadership, net income rose from about $275,000 in 2013 to nearly $1 million in 2015. The marketing department was doubled and new partnerships formed. Donations made in the memory of loved ones and friends increased. The very popular Hope Chest Thrift Stores grew to six, with another planned to open soon in Turlock. A series of well-received fundraisers brought in more support.
The additional funding was reinvested into programs and people who are devoted to the core mission of Community Hospice – to serve patients and families, whether in their homes, medical facilities or at the Alexander Cohen Hospice House in Hughson. In nearly 40 years of operation, no one ever has been turned away from Community Hospice because they couldn’t pay.
In 2014, Community Hospice joined with another foundation to open Camp Erin Modesto, which offers bereavement services to children ages 6 to 17 who have lost a parent, sibling or other loved one. More than 75 children attended a four-day foothills camp this year. Its success may require a larger location.
Bereavement services and counseling also have been extended to schools where youngsters have endured the sudden loss of a classmate or teacher as well as to businesses and individuals in the community in the midst of a crisis.
Hospice services were expanded in San Joaquin County. More training than ever before has been provided to employees. In the next month, a new learning lab will open for clinical staff members. A Caregiver College offered five times a year continues to help family members and others dealing with a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia.
These all are examples of a visionary leader and change agent, which I believe McLeod to be. She also has a “hospice heart” – the empathy and compassion shared by every member of the Community Hospice family who provides dignified, quality end-of-life care to patients and support to their families.
Jeff Cowan is a Modesto businessman and a former director on the Community Hospice board.