Meet the civic leader at the helm of Hospice of Huntington who has demonstrated both a heart for service and a head for business. By Jean Hardiman
When the time comes, it can be hard to say the word.
But it’s also a word that families throughout Huntington and the Tri-State area will speak of at length, with grateful hearts. Hospice of Huntington has been there for them. For nearly 40 years, it has shown up right when families need it the most, giving dying individuals comfort in their final days and giving their families rest and consolation. It does the work that most people simply don’t know how to do, and it does it exceptionally well.
Leading this beloved Huntington organization for the past five years has been Melanie Hall, president and CEO. After working as a nurse-turned-administrator at Valley Health for 25 years, Hall took over for longtime Hospice CEO Charlene Farrell, having been chosen from a pool of over 70 candidates in a national search.
“Charlene left some big shoes to fill,” Hall readily admitted, “but organizations are ever evolving, so I figured that I was there for a reason and would have to just work ‘in my own shoes,’ and there was work that was uniquely mine to do during my tenure. Kind of like running a marathon and handing off the baton, I decided to do the best that I can for my part of the journey and try to make positive improvements.”
Hard work is a family tradition. The lifelong Huntington resident, 55, is wife to Mark Hall, who does work in estates, antiques and real estate in Huntington, and mother of Meredith, a nurse at Cabell Huntington Hospital, and Mitchell, a freshman at Marshall University. She is also the daughter of Henriella and the late Mike Perry, and sister to Audy Perry and Michele Blake.
Being a Perry, she was raised to see the value in community service. Now leading one of Huntington’s premier service organizations, she is modeling the same commitment for her own children. Thus, she’s determined to help the organization, in the midst of healthcare’s shape-shifting regulatory backdrop, be in the best shape it can be for generations to come.
Hospice care is the highest level of care in the Palliative Care branch of medicine. Palliative Care often deals with chronic, life-limiting illness, and hospice care is needed at the point where the patient is nearing the end of life, typically with six months or less to live, and the goals of treatment are comfort and quality of life.
On an approximately $10 million budget, Hospice provides these services to almost 1,000 patients and families per year, with the help of about 100 employees and about 350 volunteers. Its services are free, with most of its funds coming from Medicare. Fundraisers and private donations cover the rest.
The important work that they do is not lost on Hall, whose own family has been touched by the beauty of Hospice’s mission. Prior to joining Hospice, the organization served her 101-year-old grandmother, and since then, it has served other loved ones, including her father, the longtime Huntington leader Mike Perry, lawyer, banker and founder of Heritage Farm Museum and Village.
“I was at Hospice of Huntington about eight months when Dad needed hospice services and passed,” Hall recalled. “I saw firsthand how valuable the care, guidance and support we provide each day are to patients and families during a fragile time of life. It impacted me greatly and reinforced my vision for how we would fulfill our mission in the days and years to come.”
Hospice of Huntington also took care of her father-in-law and his sister.
Humbled by the amazing staff and volunteers who make Hospice go each day, Hall is committed to seeing this wonderful care continue, despite challenges that arise. Nationally, the Medicare benefit for hospice services has undergone a significant amount of change since 2014, and the payment system for healthcare continues to change, she said. Meanwhile, the local structure of healthcare is changing. Hall is guiding the organization as it adapts and even expands its services.
Hospice has embarked on a new Palliative Care Program called “Tri-State LifeCare,” or TLC, designed for patients who aren’t at the medical stage for hospice care, but can benefit from other palliative care. TLC patients may still be receiving treatments such as chemotherapy or dialysis and can get assistance from Hospice’s palliative-trained physician, who collaborates with primary physicians to provide services right in the patient’s home or living facility. Found online at www.tristatelifecare.org, the TLC program has services to support caregivers as well.
Hall is proud of the adaptability of her staff, of Hospice’s commitment and willingness to pioneer new territory, and its commitment to community involvement. It has opened a new office in Point Pleasant, along with offices in Wayne and Hamlin and a newly relocated office in Ohio.
She’s proud of the caliber of care Hospice continues to maintain for all patients, “regardless of who you are, where you live or what has happened. This has remained a constant, unchanging commitment.”
Hall’s goals are to continue expanding Hospice’s new programs and services, including programs supporting caregivers as well as patients. She also hopes to increase awareness, education and support regarding healthy approaches to end of life and serious illness.
“I want Hospice to continue helping community members learn how to live well and die well,” she explains. “That includes having discussions about advanced directives, a gift we can all give our loved ones. We should all make each day count, remembering to do to others as you would have them to do to you. Because someday, we will all walk the road of end of life.”
Farrell, now retired after three decades of leading Hospice, was pleased when the board chose Hall as her successor, and continues to be.
“Like me, Melanie’s father was in hospice care soon after she assumed the role as CEO,” Farrell said. “This gives you a unique perspective and understanding about what hospice patients and their families need. The challenge has been to meet these needs with an ever changing healthcare environment and reduced reimbursements. Melanie has managed to do that, even while expanding care to new patients.”
Hospice of Huntington board member and oncologist Dr. Vera Rose has high praise for Hall as well.
“Having a leader at the helm of Hospice who understands the nuances of healthcare regulation and budgeting — along with he special manner needed for end-of-life care — is a tremendous asset,” Rose said. “She is truly a jewel of a person. Of all the years I’ve known her, I’ve never known her to be in a bad mood. The Perry family are all kind, compassionate, good people, and she is the same.”
Terry Deppner, president of the board at Hospice of Huntington, also has been impressed with Hall’s compassion combined with business savvy in the ever-shifting and competitive healthcare landscape.
“As president of the Board, I have observed that Melanie is flexible and adaptable. She can move between the bureaucratic world and the world of medicine, all the while keeping the patients’ best interests in mind,” Deppner said. “She exhibits the necessary leadership skills as well as the emotional intelligence that are essential to excel in her role. And through it all, she is honest and compassionate when dealing with patients and families during the most difficult times in people’s lives. What could be more of a blessing than that?”
JEAN HARDIMAN is a freelance writer living in Huntington, West Virginia. She is a university relations specialist at Marshall University.