Mission drives HopeWest to winning efforts

Phil Castle, The Business Times

Cassie Mitchell, right, president and chief executive officer of HopeWest, confers with Terri Walter, chief administrative officer. The Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce named HopeWest its Business of the Year. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Since she became only the second executive of HopeWest, Cassie Mitchell has persisted through nearly a year of changes. Not only in where she works and lives, but also labor shortages and regulatory changes.

What hasn’t changed, Mitchell says, is the mission. “We’re here to meet the needs of the community.”

HopeWest meets those needs, she says, through a range of services across a sprawling region that includes not only Mesa County, but also four other Western Slope counties. HopeWest provides hospice and palliative care through an in-patient center in Grand Junction as well as offices in four other communities.
The organization offers additional services through its Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE).

Based in part on efforts that serve an average of 2,500 people a year, HopeWest received the Business of the Year Award from the Grand Junction Area Chamber of Commerce.

Mitchell says the award validated the way HopeWest is woven into the community, including the business community.

“It was super exciting,” Mitchell says of the award. “That’s a huge honor.”

She credits the success of HopeWest to the 425 employees and nearly 1,000 volunteers who deliver services as well as the ongoing financial support HopeWest receives from the communities it serves.

Mitchell became in May 2022 only the second president and chief executive officer of HopeWest. She succeeded Christy Whitney, the founding president and CEO, who retired after nearly 30 years with the organization.

Mitchell previously served as chief operating officer of Bluegrass Care Navigators based in Lexington. The organization serves a third of Kentucky and provides services to more than 20,000 patients annually.

She began her more than 20-year career in hospice care as an admission nurse and nursing supervisor, then moved into roles involving inpatient unit management, intake, call center oversight, clinical operations and business development. In addition to her medical training, she holds a  master’s of business administration degree.

She says she’s worked most of her career in hospice care in part because it helps patients in the most vulnerable moments of their lives. That’s humbling and rewarding. “I still feel fulfilled by what I do.”

Mitchell says she was familiar with Grand Junction and considered it a great place to retire.

But she was attracted to the opportunity to work with HopeWest and what she considers something of a “unicorn” in the hospice care industry in that the organization is connected so closely to the communities it serves and plays such an important role.

Moreover, she says she was attracted by an opportunity to make a difference. “You could really see the impact of what your work is going to do.”

What started 30 years ago as single facility operated out of a donated home has grown into an organization with an
in-patient hospice center in Grand Junction and offices in four other communities serving Mesa County as well as Delta, Montrose, Ouray and Rio Blanco counties.

That’s not to mention three retail outlets and a restaurant, operations which not only generate funding, but also familiarize people with HopeWest. “Know us before you need us,” Mitchell says.

An organization that cared for 117 patients in its first year now cares for an average of 2,500 patients a year.

In addition to hospice and palliative care, HopeWest provides grief support.
A total of nearly 600 children and teen-agers benefited last year alone from a program unique in Western Colorado.

More than 100 people participate in the program of all-inclusive care for the elderly. “That’s pretty fast growth.” Mitchell says of the 16-month-old effort.

PACE provides medical and support services that enable participants to live safely and independently in their homes — including assistance with bathing, housekeeping and transportation. The social aspect of the program remains “huge,” she says.

Even as HopeWest has expanded its operations and services, the organization faces challenges, Mitchell says.

Labor shortages have been a problem  coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, one that necessitated the use of temporary traveling providers, she says.

Regulatory changes pose additional challenges in the way hospice facilities are  scrutinized as well as paid for services.

The hospice care industry itself is changing with the proliferation of for-profit providers and their consolidation, she says.

HopeWest holds an advantage, though, in its partnerships with health care providers and its integration into the community, Mitchell says. “The community knows us and trusts us, and that’s not to be taken lightly.”

HopeWest also offers desirable workplace culture, she said. The organization ranked among the best places to work in health care based on the 2021 results of a magazine survey.

HopeWest ranked 17th among providers and insurers as well as fourth in the family friendliest category by the Modern Healthcare trade publication. HopeWest has received the recognition four times.

Mitchell says part of her role as a leader is to provide the tools, resources and support team members need. “It’s my job to help make sure they can do theirs.”

Even as HopeWest and hospice care changes, the mission to meet the needs of the community doesn’t, she says. “We’ll be here with everything we’ve got.”

For more information about HopeWest, call 241-2122 or log on to www.hopewestco.org.