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Leading the Way in Hospice Care

Malene Davis

Written by Patrick Gregg | Photographed by Alex Wilson

Healthcare is bigger component in the lives of Americans than ever before, so it is all the more special that an alumna of the West Virginia University College of Business and Economics has built a business model for the hospice care industry.

Malene Davis, who earned her Master of Business Administration degree at B&E in 1987, is president and CEO of Capital Caring in Washington, D.C., and West Virginia Caring, based in Arthurdale, West Virginia. Davis, who also earned RN and MSN nursing degrees at WVU, is the first nurse to pursue and achieve an MBA at B&E. A native of Masontown in Preston County, West Virginia, Davis has been the driving force behind building a business that emphasizes that four-letter word that means so much to her — care.

Before she graduated from WVU’s School of Nursing,
Davis started working at WVU Hospitals on the oncology floor. She was encouraged to get a business degree, and not long after getting her undergraduate degree, she was taking part-time graduate school classes and working full-time at the hospital. As a result, Davis earning her MBA was like a shot out of a cannon.

Capital Caring and West Virginia Caring combined are among the largest and most experienced hospice and palliative care providers in the U.S. Together, the companies serve nearly 1,400 people daily in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and D.C. And while the majority of care is provided in patients’ homes, Capital Caring also operates 56 inpatient beds in four acute-care facilities, more than any other hospice provider in the mid-Atlantic region.

Capital Caring has cared for nearly 110,000 families since its founding in 1977 by dedicated community volunteers in Northern Virginia who recognized an unmet need for compassionate advanced illness care. Prior to Capital Caring, Davis was president and CEO of Hospice Care Corporation (now known as West Virginia Caring). She began as the organization’s first paid employee in 1988 and built the company into the largest hospice organization in West Virginia, serving 13 counties in the North Central region and four counties in Western Pennsylvania.

Davis is a nationally recognized, award-winning advocate for the advancement of the hospice philosophy and for better care for the seriously ill. She has been recognized by the American Academy of Pain Medicine, the Healthcare Council of the National Capital Area and by the Hospice and Palliative Nurses Foundation. She was also presented the Top 50 Graduates Award by the WVU School of Nursing.

She continues to serve her alma mater as the current chair of the board of directors of the WVU Alumni Association, and is a visiting committee member for the WVU School of Nursing and the WVU School of Public Health.

It is probably no accident at all that West Virginia Caring is headquartered in the historic Eleanor Roosevelt (New Deal) Arthurdale Inn. Davis said she has always been inspired by Roosevelt and, unsurprisingly, both have been described as unconventional, smart, disciplined and strong.

You have combined your knowledge of nursing with your knowledge of business to create a much-needed component of the healthcare industry. To what do you attribute your success?

The world-class clinical and business education I received at WVU, tempered by the “school of hard knocks,” has allowed me to build the largest not-for-profit, multi-community-based hospice and palliative care delivery system in the nation.

You spent a lot of time in the shadow of West Virginia University in Preston County, West Virginia, and you earned three degrees at WVU. Tell us about your love for this university.

I beg to differ, but with an altitude of more than 1,000 feet of elevation looming above Monongalia County, doesn’t Preston County cast a shadow over Morgantown?! Notwithstanding the lofty heights of Arthurdale, I bleed gold and blue. Go Mountaineers!

Ultimately, what drove you in the direction of heading a company that provides hospice care?

Mix a portion of dumb luck, divine providence and good fortune, and you have the recipe for my entry into “the best kept secret” in American healthcare.

What parts of this company and your job make you the proudest?

Simply said, the people. My colleagues and coworkers inspire me daily to provide the best care possible to the most vulnerable of the vulnerable “moms and dads” who are, after all, our friends and neighbors. I could not be more proud of the clinical teams who spend their days and nights providing care and comfort at such an important time in the lives of patients and their families.

There is a very definite business side to the healthcare industry. How did B&E help prepare you for that?

My core knowledge and skills were honed as the first nurse to pursue and achieve an MBA in the College of Business and Economics. Not every clinician can or should obtain an advanced business degree, but it strikes me that every clinician should have some grounding in best business practices. Conversely, it is inconceivable to me that we will ever have a healthcare delivery system that meets the needs of human beings if those leaders who set policy and administer healthcare in our country do not develop an empathetic connection to the sick and injured by “getting their hands dirty” in some bedside care experience.

You have been a national advocate for better care for the seriously ill. What improvements have you pushed for that have become a reality?

My goal has been to continually improve care through more uniform provision of measurably high-quality services. We have implemented several innovations in staff education and training, quality measurement tools and telecaring, just to name a few, that patients and their families tell us have made a huge difference in their outlook, confidence and comfort.

Who were the most influential people in your life, from both professional and personal perspectives?

My mom and dad. And I must attribute so much of my success to those colleagues who joined me early on in building what is now known as West Virginia Caring. Beyond these early influencers, there are simply too many great people in this field to mention here, but they know how deeply my respect and appreciation runs.

How do you try to differentiate Capital Caring/West Virginia Caring in the overall hospice and healthcare industries?

Our key differentiators are our financial model, which is built to ensure enterprise sustainability coupled with our “quality as a business strategy” approach to everything we do. We are constantly seeking to innovate and improve upon our ability to address what matters most to those who entrust their care — their very lives — to us. We are also highly engaged in partnering with health systems and policy makers in order to have a hand in the next iteration of advanced illness care.

Tell us something you find rewarding or makes you happy in your personal life.

I’m never more joyful than screaming my brains out at the Coliseum or at Milan Puskar Stadium as the Mountaineers challenge their Big 12 rivals!