Sue Moore Ranson, founder and CEO of Good Samaritan Hospice in Roanoke will retire the end of this year. Good Sam, as it is fondly referred to, was the first Medicare-certified hospice to serve the Roanoke Valley (licensed in March 1992) and remains the only non-profit, community based hospice in the area.
“I vividly remember March 9, 1992,” says Ranson. “The day our hospice license arrived in the mail, it was a sunny, brisk day with a hint of spring around the corner. Two potential hospice patients were ‘waiting in the wings’ for that license to arrive so that afternoon we headed out on the first of many journeys that would connect us to very special people at a very sacred time of life. It didn’t take long before we realized that we were going to learn more than we were taught and that we would receive more than we would give.”
In its first year of serving, Good Sam admitted 74 patients and, within two years of opening its doors, Good Sam was presented the “Presidents Award of Excellence” in marketing by the National Hospice Organization (now the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization), the largest organization serving hospices throughout the country.
In 2017, 698 patients were admitted in the course of the year and 2018 is on track to be a banner year for providing quality end-of-life care to the Roanoke, Smith Mountain Lake and New River Valley communities. Since 1992, Good Sam has touched the lives of more than 11,000 patients and their loved ones through well over 500,000 staff and volunteer visits.
“One patient and one family at a time, we are entering their last hours or days or weeks or months with compassion and knowledge of how to make their last journeys the best they can be,” explained Ranson.
Starting from a volunteer staff of two people on January 2, 1992, Good Sam now employs nearly 100 people. The growth of the organization has been phenomenal and in large part due to Ranson’s commitment to mission, service and excellence.
“With natural poise and grace, Sue has shown us the vision for Good Sam and has enabled her team to excellence. She works tirelessly to create a philosophy where everyday excellence is the standard,” commented Dr. William Fintel, Oncologist and Good Sam’s first medical director. “When Sue asked me to become the medical director of Good Samaritan Hospice a quarter of a century ago, the vision of seamless, coordinated, compassionate care at life’s end was like looking into the fog for me. But Sue, I think by Divine providence, could see through that fog and envisioned exactly what Good Sam could become and, of course, what that could mean for thousands of people and their families.”
Good Sam has adapted to a multitude of changes to both Virginia and Medicare hospice regulations over the years. The percentage of not-for-profit hospices has dropped from about 80% in the early 1990s to about 30% today. Good Sam has gone from being one of two hospices in the area in 1992 to one of eight hospices today serving the Roanoke/Smith Mountain/New River Valley.
“It isn’t always easy,” Ranson admits, “but we’ve learned that our ability to serve people at the end of life, in the manner patients and families deserve, means staying unwaveringly focused on what matters most (our mission) and never forgetting why we do this work.”
By the end of this year, Ranson will have spent 27 years at Good Sam, three as Vice-President of Patient Care Services and 24 as Executive Director/President/CEO. “I feel like I am one of the most blessed people on earth,” Ranson said. “I have spent the majority of my career getting paid to live out my passion to serve people at the most sacred of times.”
Prior to Good Sam, Ranson’s nursing career started in pediatrics at the Medical College of Virginia Hospitals in Richmond. Since moving to Roanoke in 1979, she has worked at Community Hospital as a medical/surgical staff nurse, as a staff development instructor and as Coordinator of the Center for Adult Life. She was also involved in implementing the Parents Grief Support Group (now a Compassionate Friends chapter) and SHARE, a support group for parents who experienced the loss of a child in pregnancy.
In 2000, Ranson became Chair of the then-new Roanoke Valley End of Life Care Partnership (now the Palliative Care Partnership of the Roanoke Valley, PCPRV). She also chairs the Public Policy Committee of the Virginia Association of Hospices and Palliative Care (VAHPC). Ranson has a long history of working with other Virginia Hospices, most recently to help them update the Risk Evaluation Mitigation Toolkit for opioid safety developed by VAHPC in 2013.
While President of VAHPC, Ranson hired Brenda Clarkson to be its Executive Director in 2008. In true “Sue-style,” she delegated the responsibility for conducting hiring interviews to other Board members to avoid any potential conflict of interest based on the years in which they had known each other professionally, explained Clarkson.
“Since meeting her in the 90s, Sue became one of my hospice heroes; her dedication, passion, innovative spirit and soulful approach to end-of-life care filled me with admiration and gave me goals towards which I continue to strive,” Clarkson said. “As a hospice leader, Sue continued to be involved with VAHPC even when her Board term expired, especially in our statewide advocacy work and as a mentor in compliance and the delivery of excellent hospice care. VAHPC and hospice across the Commonwealth have truly been impacted by Sue’s long and dedicated career.”
In time, Good Sam expanded its service area and admitted its first New River Valley patient in the spring of 2001. The NRV satellite office was launched in the spring of 2005 and it became officially licensed in May 2007, shortly after the arrival of the late Martie Byrum, Good Sam’s first Director of Patient Services in the NRV. “NRV struggled for a while,” explained Sue, “but we knew people needed us there and we were just determined to stay the course.” The NRV office launched with two employees and now has nearly twenty-five staff members and 40 volunteers .
In 2017, Good Sam celebrated 25 years of service to the area and also joined the National Partnership for Hospice Innovation (NPHI), a partnership of non-profit, community-integrated hospice, palliative care and advanced illness providers. Through this collaboration, Good Sam aligned itself with hospices of similar values and histories who desire to provide the highest standard of care and to respond innovatively to patients and families so that decades from now their fundamental missions can still be fulfilled.
Ranson, what has allowed Good Sam to endure and what has made Good Sam so special are the people who sacrificially strive each day to ensure that patients and families are cared for with the utmost dignity and compassion. “Our board of directors, advisory board, leadership team, administrative and clinical staff and our volunteers are all earnestly dedicated to furthering the mission to affirm life and honor what matters most to those we serve,” she added. “I hope that when people think about hospice, they think about Good Sam.”
Good Sam’s board and search committee worked diligently to prepare for this major transition in leadership. They operationalized a succession plan that would strategically accommodate for Ranson’s retirement. The CEO search committee, charged with upholding Good Sam’s well-established quality of care, secured their next CEO, Aaron Housh, who is scheduled to begin with Good Sam in November 2018. Housh has a well-rounded background in hospice care and comes to Good Sam from Burke Hospice & Palliative Care in Valdese, NC where he currently serves as CEO.
Ranson’s last official day as CEO of Good Sam is December 31, 2018. “I whole-heartedly believe God is calling me to open a new chapter in my life and that He has called Aaron to Good Sam. Aaron is deeply committed to the non-profit, community-based hospice’s role and he will be a vibrant, creative, servant-leader for Good Sam’s next chapter.”
Sue does plan to continue serving at Good Sam. Among other things, she hopes to become a Good Sam doula – a volunteer present with patients and families at the final hours of life.
Those privileged to have Ranson alongside them will be blessed indeed.