‘In Capable Hands’

New Hospice director takes on dream job, gladly learns from her predecessor

With little fanfare but much preparation, Hospice of the Gorge Executive Director Sharon Mulford last week handed over the reigns of the organization to Deborah Jaques.

Mulford is retiring after more than three years at the helm of Hospice of the Gorge, whose reach extends to seven counties in Oregon and Washington.

“I’m leaving (the organization) in very capable hands,” said Mulford, who added that she was “sad in many ways because I’m leaving this great group of people.”

Jaques, a 25-year resident of Hood River, comes from a background in business and management, and previously worked in health care as a radiologist.

“When I heard about this job, it was an epiphany for me,” Jaques said. She previously worked in management at Sprint for 18 years, and most recently was an executive for XO Communications, a telecommunications company based in Virginia. That job required her to travel several days a week and, as a result, she had to withdraw from many of the community organizations she loved — including the Soroptimists. She also had to resign from her position as president of the Hood River County Education Foundation.

“Being away that much was just not a good fit for me,” said Jaques, who missed being immersed in the Hood River community.

Jaques came onboard Hospice more than a month ago so she could spend time working alongside Mulford.

“I feel extremely well mentored,” said Jaques, adding that Mulford “has been extremely open and unselfish” with her expertise and knowledge about the organization, which has 42 employees. Mulford brought about many changes to the once-fledgling Hospice of the Gorge during her tenure. When she took over in 2000, the non-profit had just emerged from an organization-wide salary freeze and had ongoing budget woes.

Mulford was instrumental in returning Hospice to financial viability by increasing the visibility and reach of the organization. Last summer, Hospice of the Gorge purchased property in the Heights to build its first-ever permanent Hood River office. Ground-breaking for the Hood River facility took place last week. (See page A1 for related story.)

Taking over as Hospice executive director will allow — indeed require — Jaques to immerse herself once again in Hood River and the communities of the Mid-Columbia. Jaques says she will carry on where Mulford left off. She hopes to further increase the visibility of Hospice of the Gorge so that patients and their families seek help from the organization in time for it to benefit both parties.

“One mission I feel strongly about is getting patients and their families involved in Hospice earlier,” Jaques said. About half of local Hospice patients receive Hospice care for less than 30 days before death, while about one-third are on Hospice care for only seven days.

“Patients and their families suffer needlessly both medically and spiritually,” Jaques said. One of her goals is to educate people about the Hospice mission — including clearing up misconceptions about Hospice being synonymous with “giving up.”

“We really focus on helping people live their lives to the end, rather than on the idea of dying,” she said. “We can do so much.”

Jaques hopes to increase the reach of Hospice in part by “building bridges” to local care facilities like Brookside Manor and Hawks Ridge Assisted Living Facility.

“We provide services to people at home whether home is a house or Brookside Manor,” Jaques said. “Building bridges between our staff and the staffs at those facilities is another strategy we can use to help us get patients into Hospice sooner.”

Other of Jaques’ goals include continuing Mulford’s efforts to bring the latest technology to the Hospice offices and staff, including networking computers in order to help streamline access to the enormous number of records the organization must maintain for patients. Jaques also aims to “nurture” her staff.

“The issues and challenges they face on a daily basis can be overwhelming,” she said. “We need to take good care of our people so they can take good care of our patients and families.”

Hospice of the Gorge can be reached at 387-6449.

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