Lisa Deal brings long commitment to healthcare to her role at Mission Hospice

by Linda Hubbard on November 12, 2014

From a very young age, Atherton resident Lisa Deal knew she wanted to be involved in healthcare. “I’d go around in my head — nurse to doctor to nurse to physical therapy,” she recalled. “But I don’t remember wanting to do anything else.”

Eventually it was the connection with people that prevailed, and Lisa got a bachelor’s and master’s degree in nursing. “I was interested in relationships more than science.”

At the height of the nursing shortage, she moved with her husband Bruce to Boston where he was attending grad school. “I had six interviews in six days and got six job offers,” she says.

After a tour on a cardiology floor at a hospital, Lisa took a job with the Boston Visiting Nurses, which ultimately led to her true calling. “The neighborhood I covered was around Fenway, which had a high gay population,” she says. “This was the height of AIDS before there was effective treatment.

“One of my AIDS patients got into a hospice house. I didn’t know about hospice, but I found great satisfaction working with hospice patients. I didn’t love the dying part, but I did love helping people in the end of life process.”

Today, Lisa is Director of Outreach and Intake for Mission Hospice, a non-profit that has been providing services to patients in San Mateo County for 35 years. It offers three programs, transitions, advanced (palliative) care, and hospice. “We figure out how we can tailor the needs and goals and care for each patient,” she says.

Lisa realizes that there are a lot of misconceptions about hospice, that people think it’s all about giving up and dying. “It’s more about how to orchestrate the living that you have left,” she says.

“People also think hospice is for the very end, the last weeks or days. But people can be on our service for six months. Research shows people live longer on hospice because their symptoms are controlled.

“In addition, people don’t know they have a right to this service. And physicians are somewhat reluctant to admit there is nothing more they can do in regard to treatment.”

Currently, Mission Hospice service comes to the patient and his/her family, usually in a home environment. But Lisa explains there are families for personal or cultural reasons who don’t want a person to die at home. And there are cases where patients’ symptoms can’t be managed well at home.

For that and other reasons, Mission Hospice has launched a fundraising campaign with a minimum goal of $15 million to open San Mateo County’s first freestanding, 12 to 18 bed hospice house. It will offer a private, home-like setting for those at the very end of life who can no longer stay at home. Patients would come directly from the hospital or emergency room or from Mission’s or other organizations’ hospice programs.

“We think this is the next important step in Mission’s goal to provide a full continuum of end of life services to patients and families in our community,” says Lisa. “We’ve just begun the campaign but we’re optimistic that we can reach our goal.”

Photo by Frances Freyberg

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