The Future Leaders Awards program is brought to you in partnership with Homecare Homebase. The program is designed to recognize up-and-coming industry members who are shaping the next decade of home health, hospice care, senior housing, skilled nursing, and behavioral health. To see this year’s Future Leaders, visit https://futureleaders.agingmedia.com/.
Jason Parsons, chief strategy officer for Blue Ridge Hospice, has been named a 2023 Future Leader by Hospice News.
To become a Future Leader, an individual is nominated by their peers. The candidate must be a high-performing employee who is 40-years-old or younger, a passionate worker who knows how to put vision into action, and an advocate for seniors and the committed professionals who ensure their well-being.
Parsons sat down with Hospice News to talk about his career trajectory and the ways the industry is evolving.
What drew you to the hospice field?
I had a meandering sort of path. Like a lot of people who work in hospice, I never sought out to do this work.
I grew up in southern West Virginia. My grandfather died from lung cancer as a result of what’s called black lung disease. He was a coal miner for 50 years and breathed in that dust. It was a terrible disease. And that was my first introduction to hospice, when a hospice took care of him at the end of his life.
I thought it was just amazing that there was this system of care that supported my family and made my grandfather’s transition that much easier. I also noticed that things seemed to really settle down for him when hospice arrived.
Before that, it was a lot of turbulence and disjointed care and being in and out of the hospital all the time. And all that settled down during the few weeks that he was in hospice care. So that was my first personal experience.
When I graduated from West Virginia University and moved to Washington, D.C., and went to work for a marketing firm, and one of our clients happened to be Capital Caring Health.
I was working on a project and really became fascinated by what I thought was just a wonderful, meaningful model of care that drew really caring, smart, compassionate people. So I was offered a role in communications at Capital Caring.
I took the job and always had an interest in nonprofit leadership. I always thought my career may go in that direction. But like a lot of people in hospice, it became more than a job. It really is a calling. And I think that a lot of us who do this work really feel called to do it.
In time, I came to Blue Ridge and was running business development and asking questions like: How do we serve more people? How do we reach hard-to-reach communities? How do we position ourselves to be the best provider that we can be?
I became really interested in value-based care and the opportunity that we have, particularly those of us who are legacy providers. We are at this pivotal point, this inflection point in the evolution of healthcare in our society, to really reimagine what aging looks like in our communities.
What would you say is the biggest lesson you’ve learned since you started to work in hospice?
I’ve learned a lot of lessons. Personally, I’ve learned life’s short. It’s encouraged me to make the most of my own life and to very much live in the moment. I’ve always been an adventurous spirit and enjoyed doing and trying things and exploring things. But I think that doing this work really brought that out in me.
It’s a constant reminder of the fragility of life and to make every day the best day that that can be. That’s by far the biggest lesson that I’ve learned.
I’ve also learned that people still have a bucket list. People want to live long enough to go fishing one more time or to see their kids get married or graduate college. Whether people have more yesterdays than tomorrows or more tomorrows than yesterdays, I think it’s important to take time for those little moments that are so meaningful. That’s also been a big lesson.
Professionally, I’ve learned that you have to adapt, and you have to embrace change. You have to focus on solutions to the big questions that that the American healthcare system and the hospice world grapple with. You should shape the future not be afraid of it.
We have to pull things apart and put them back together in a way that we haven’t done before, whether that’s the models of care that we build, how we interact with payers, what the patient experience looks like and what the continuum of care looks like.
If you could change one thing with an eye toward the future of hospice, what would it be?
Particularly for legacy organizations like Blue Ridge, we have to position ourselves as not just a hospice with additional service lines, but as a care organization with hospice as a service line. That’s what I would change.
We’re at the evolutionary stage now. We’re not just hospices with other service lines. I envision us all to be care organizations rooted in the same values and the same ethos that have long defined us.
What do you foresee as being different about hospice about the industry as you look ahead to 2024?
We’re in the midst of a transition right now to a value-based world, and I think that part of what we have to do is articulate what it means to be “value-based.”
Some of us talk in this jargon, but we really need to be engaged, to be part of the solution and to understand where we’re going. We can’t get lost in the alphabet soup.
What I foresee on the horizon for 2024 is that we have the opportunity to engage more in coalition building and avenues of creative cooperation and collaboration — to take the puzzle apart and put it back together.
Let’s forge those creative alliances. Everybody talks about cooperation or collaboration, but I think creativity should be a big part of that. How do we look at things a little bit differently? Who can we imagine as partners out there that maybe you know aren’t the most obvious choice?
In a word, how would you describe the future of hospice?
I have two: exciting and hopeful.
If you could go back to your first day in the industry and give yourself one piece of advice, what would that be?
To learn as much as you can, to not be siloed — I have learned that lesson, but I didn’t learn it right away. I think that’s because our health care system is siloed and fragmented, but it’s also sometimes the way we organize. Our organizations themselves become siloed and fragmented.
Part of what helped my career at this stage is the fact that I’ve had such varied experiences. I’ve not just been a communications person or a public affairs person. I’ve done business development. I’ve done strategy. I’ve done a wide variety of things.
That’s driven by my innate curiosity, but also by this decision somewhere along the way to want to know how different aspects connect and really understand what’s driving change and the forces are at play.