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/.
Melissa Heiss, vice president of hospice, Jet Health, 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.
Heiss sat down with Hospice News to talk about her career trajectory and the ways the industry is evolving.
What drew you to the hospice industry?
I was fortunate enough to grow up around my grandparents and great grandparents, and I always had a heart for our aging population. They lived in a rural farming community where there are great support systems from the community, but not a lot of support from a health care perspective. The largest hospital was an hour away.
I was automatically drawn to the geriatric population. Having the opportunity to help a generation that greatly influenced me as a child and make it a career seemed very rewarding and natural to me.
I started my career and had opportunities come open to where I could be a part of operations, sales and marketing for health care companies. Seeing that not only could I make a difference, but I could also educate and be an advocate for that geriatric population was key.
There’s a lot of rural farming communities in states like Idaho, Texas and New Mexico where a hospital or health care provider is nearly 75 miles away. And this is even more so for the Native American communities in these regions. Nobody is telling them how health care really should be, what questions to ask, and I had seen the impacts of that lack of information on aging and dying people throughout my childhood.
What’s your biggest lesson learned since starting to work in the hospice industry?
The industry and health care is ever evolving, so getting comfortable with change is a crucial part of being in the health care industry. From a pandemic to regulatory and payment changes, there is never a time to be bored in this industry, which also makes it a lifetime of learning and evolution for those of us who have been in the hospice space for many years.
You have to surround yourself with teams of people that come from all different backgrounds, whether from rural or urban areas or maybe with those in other health care areas like a hospital, home or skilled nursing setting. There is value in being surrounded by people that have worked in different settings with different cultures. You can address new challenges and figure out how to evolve, how to work together and improve based on learned lessons.
We all have a common challenge in hospice: that people think it’s the last days of life when they in fact could access it for several months. It’s having an evolving education around how we change that mindset. Bringing people together with different mindsets and experiences allows us to evolve and constantly change our approaches to problems as the hospice industry evolves.
If you could change one thing with an eye toward the future of hospice care, what would it be?
As our population ages and that aging population lives longer statistically, there are still many patients and families that fall in the gap of what our care currently provides between home health and hospice.
Regulators and industry leaders have worked for years to build bridges for those gaps, but it has not been fast enough for the patients and families that are impacted every day — especially those in underserved areas.
My hope is that as we move forward with our hospice future, we can make true, billable programs that are sustainable and economical for all sized companies with palliative care, home health and hospice eligibility guidelines that allow for diagnosis to be eligible for longer than six months.
What do you foresee as being different about hospice care looking ahead to 2024?
I see increased oversight and regulation for hospice companies, which has been in our past but is still very much needed to assist in eliminating those companies that seem to practice outside of the scope of regulation.
Surveys and audits are on the rise, and for those of us who have been in the hospice industry for a while, many of us welcome those additional audits to allow for all hospices to truly operate on the same playing field. We’ve seen upticks in audits across the hospice space and it can wear heavier on smaller companies with fewer resources to keep that level of compliance up.
Navigating these challenges has hospices getting creative as far as developing the resources, tools and teams to help them remain compliant. Remaining competitive and compliant in hospice can be time consuming, but a good allocation of resources when it comes to standing out from others that are not ethical in the space.
In a word, how would you describe the future of hospice?
Resilience. Hospice and health care are ever changing, and as operators we have to remain resilient in order to provide the best care with the resources we have in order to support our teams and give exceptional patient care.
If you could give advice to yourself looking back to your first day in the industry, what would it be and why?
This piece of advice is something I say almost every day, “Get comfortable being uncomfortable because it is where we grow.”
Every day brings new challenges and there will always be something that makes you get out of your comfort zone. If we keep our focus on the two most important things each day, our patients and staff, then we can solve almost anything that makes us uncomfortable.
To learn more about the Future Leaders program, visit https://futureleaders.agingmedia.com/.