Executive Committee

FHPCA appreciates the dedication from our outstanding Executive Committee installed for 2024.

2024 Officers and Committee Chairs:

Susan Ponder-Stansel, President & CEO
Alivia Care | Community Hospice & Palliative Care

Susan began her career with Community Hospice (then known as Hospice of Northeast Florida) as a volunteer clinical social worker for the nonprofits new St. Augustine office in 1985, having just earned a master’s degree in social work from Florida State University. She became the organization’s first staff social worker in 1986.

She became Executive Director in 1988 and was named president and CEO of Community Hospice of Northeast Florida in April 1991. During her tenure, Community Hospice has grown from serving 60 patients a day with a staff of 35 to an organization of approximately 850 full- and part-time staff serving approximately 1,200 patients each day.

In addition to serving as president of the Junior Service League of St. Augustine from 1993-94, Susan has served on the Board of Directors of United Way of St. Johns County; the Advisory Board of the Historic St. Augustine Preservation Board; the Trustees of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce; and the Jacksonville Women’s Network. 

Vice Chair of Internal Affairs | Chair-Elect
Jonathan D. Fleece, Esq., President & CEO 
Empath Health

Jonathan D. Fleece, Esq., began serving as President of Empath Health in early 2021 after the merger of Empath Health and Stratum Health System. He became President and CEO of Stratum Health System / Tidwell Hospice in 2018 after serving as President/CEO and a shareholder of Black Walters, P.A., in Bradenton and Sarasota.

As a former long-term board member of Tidewell Hospice and Stratum, Fleece has been instrumental in the success of both organizations. He promotes the use of industry innovations and collaboration while maintaining focus on one-on-one customer service. Fleece serves on the board of the Florida Hospice and Palliative Care Association and is a member of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and of HomeCare 100. He received his J.D. Degree and Certificate in Health Law Studies from Saint Louis University School of Law and his B.A. from Emory University. Fleece is a former Florida board-certified health care attorney and the co-author of The New Health Age: The Future of Health Care in America, with David Houle. Fleece and Houle are co-founders of New Health Age Advisors, and Fleece is the founder of tobe4HEALTH.

Vice Chair of External Affairs 
Patty Husted, Vice President of Patient & Family Supportive Services 
VITAS Healthcar

In her current role, Patty oversees volunteer and bereavement services, elevating the overall experience for VITAS patient care.

Patty joined VITAS in 1989 as a hospice nurse in an inpatient unit, and she has served in more than a dozen leadership roles throughout the company’s expansion into 12 additional states and the District of Columbia.

Before joining VITAS, Patty worked as an oncology nurse. From her initial experiences in hospice nursing, she moved into manager roles on VITAS home care teams, an outreach team, a pediatric care team, an inpatient unit, and as a patient care manager for VITAS in Broward County, Florida.

Patty also has served as national patient care administrator, director of patient services, director and vice president of clinical services, vice president of operations for VITAS in the Northeast, vice president of operations for Central/North Florida, senior vice president of operations, and as executive vice president for Florida and Georgia.

Throughout her career, she has served as a leader in identifying and addressing business opportunities, performing companywide quality assurance and regulatory compliance, and creating company policies and procedures that improve patient care.

Immediate Past-Chair | Governance Committee Chair
Jaysen Roa, President & CEO
Avow Hospice

Jaysen Roa joined Avow as President & CEO in 2015. During his tenure, Jaysen has overseen the growth of Avow Hospice, Avow Palliative Care Services, Avow Foundation and the Avow Kids children’s grief and loss program. Under his direction, Avow programs, services, facilities and resources for patients, their families and the community at large have grown significantly, serving more adults and children than ever in the company’s almost 40 year-history.

Jaysen’s hospice experience include developing innovative patient-centered approaches to providing care, facilities and outreach in an ever-changing health landscape. His efforts include public policy advocacy both nationally and at the state level to advance hospice, palliative care and post-acute, home-centered care.

Jaysen is the Florida hospice representative serving the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization Council of States and a member of the National Partnership for Healthcare and Hospice Innovation.

Prior to joining Avow, Jaysen served as Executive Director at Good Shepherd Hospice based in Lakeland, Florida. He also held executive positions at HPH Hospice and began his hospice career at Hospice of Citrus County, all based in Florida.

Jaysen has completed numerous industry certifications in hospice and fundraising management. He holds a master’s in business administration and master’s in health administration from Webster University in St. Louis, Missouri and a bachelor of arts degree in psychology from University of South Florida in Tampa.

Valerie Kenworthy, Vice President Clinical Operations 
Health First

Valerie Kenworthy joined Hospice of Health First in 2002 spending time coordinating support services, business development and post acute services for the Health First integrated delivery system and since January 2013 has served as the Director.  Overseeing daily operations and creating and implementing strategic plans to move Hospice of Health First, inpatient and field programs, forward in its mission of serving the community.  

Valerie has been a speaker at the National Hospice and Palliative Care Conference and the Southwest Florida Coalition for Palliative Care, a member of National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, the Florida Hospice and Palliative Care Association and the Center to Advance Palliative Care.

Dian Backoff, Executive Director 
Catholic Hospice

Dian is an accomplished executive with an in-depth background in providing strategic direction and oversight to the healthcare industry with a strong focus on improving bottom line growth for new and existing hospices. Her leadership skills have taken her as far as directing a team to grow a small hospice operation into the nation’s leading hospice provider. She is adept at working in both startup and corporate environments and possesses experience leading projects for a variety of functions including opening hospice and palliative care units, new program development, day-to-day management of large teams, call center operations, as well as patient care. 

She began her career as an intake admissions expert and has worked at the bedside as an LPN. Throughout the years, she gained the experience which allowed her to increase her role and responsibility through a wide range of management positions, such as; Director of Admissions, General Manager and Vice President of Operations. As the Vice President of Operations for The Caring Foundation, she was accountable for leading all business development activities including creating and offering a shared services program to US-based hospices. From 2015-2018, she was a Hospice Consultant for ValueCare at Home Registry and Visiting Nurse Service of New York.

In March of 2018, Dian joined Catholic Hospice, as part of Catholic Health Services and The Archdiocese of Miami as the Executive Director. Through her leadership, she has led the change management program in the past twenty months.

Dian is an Alumni of the South Florida Hospital Association and served as a Board Member for the Community Health Accreditation Partner (CHAP). Her education includes studies in Health Services Administration at Barry University, and participates as a community panel member in the FAU Masters Healthcare Administration executive program.

Director at Large I
Linda Ward, President & CEO
Gulfside Healthcare Services

Linda Ward, President and CEO of Gulfside Healthcare Services, Inc., holds a Master’s Degree in Social Work and Healthcare Administration.  She has 36 years of healthcare experience in acute care, long-term care hospice care and home health care, along with executive administrative experience in operations, management, sales and marketing. Linda speaks nationally and locally on the topics of Leadership, Organizational Management, Operations and Financial Recovery, Customer Loyalty, Marketing Success, Alzheimer’s, Disease, Hospice and Palliative Care.  Linda is a member of many healthcare organizations.

As President and CEO of Gulfside Healthcare Services, Ms. Ward is responsible for overall operations of a $52M company, census growth and revenue, strategic planning, and provision of care and service to patients and families. Ms. Ward’s strategy for the future is four-fold: 1) to build awareness and access to quality, compassionate care to people in the greater Tampa Bay market through education and community outreach; 2) to diversify as a viable healthcare system, providing post-acute care for patients and their families; 3) to partner with professionals in all healthcare industries in order to serve patients as a united front; and 4) to foster a professional work environment that celebrates talent, awards dedication, and promotes on all levels.

Ms. Ward has served as Board President of the Florida Hospice and Palliative Care Association, and currently serves on its Executive Committee. Linda also serves on the Florida Home Care Association Board and the YMCA Board. Linda is a past Board member of the Pasco Education Foundation and the Alzheimer’s Association. She is a graduate of the 2005 Leadership Pasco class.

Director at Large II
Samira K. Beckwith, Executive Vice President, Public Policy
Chapters Health System

Previously Samira Beckwith served as president and chief executive officer of Hope Healthcare since 1991. She is a recognized pioneer in the hospice and healthcare field. Her expertise and lifetime commitment to quality care is acknowledged throughout the state, nationally and internationally. Samira was appointed to The White House Conference on Aging, served on a panel for the Senate Special Committee on Aging and testified before the House Judiciary subcommittee on the need for legislation to enable better care and comfort for those at the end of life. Within the state of Florida, she was given special recognition by Governors Ron DeSantis, Rick Scott and Jeb Bush, having been appointed to their respective committees including the Transition Advisory Committee on Health and Wellness, the Board of Directors for the Florida Center for Nursing and the Long-Term Care Advisory Committee.

As a dedicated champion for palliative care and end-of-life issues, Samira has served as Chair for both the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization and the National Hospice Foundation. In addition, she is the founding president of the Florida PACE Providers Association and a founding director of the National Partnership for Healthcare and Hospice Innovation.

Committee Chairs:

Chair, Education & Innovation Committee
Tarrah Lowry, Chief Operating Officer

Tarrah Lowry joined Trustbridge as Chief Operating Officer in August 2021. Ms. Lowry brings more than a decade of progressive health care leadership to this role. Prior to joining Trustbridge, she served in a number of senior leadership roles, including President and Chief Executive Officer at Sangre de Cristo Community Care in Pueblo, Colorado. 

Tarrah brings considerable energy, vision and expertise in hospice and palliative care on a state and national level having served on both the National Association of Home Care and Hospice and Hospice & National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization board of directors. She has built and expanded palliative care programs and has significant experience with value based care and outcome based payment models. Tarrah is a tireless advocate for quality care in the home and protecting and expanding benefits for those who need them most.

Chair, Public Policy Committee
Mark Slobodian, Vice President of Government Affairs
VITAS Healthcare

Mark is the Vice President of Government Affairs for VITAS Healthcare. His position includes all federal and state government relations as well as policy analysis for the company. 

Previously he was the Director of Legislative Affairs for NHPCO and HAN where he served as the point person on all Congressional relations for the trade association and affiliated advocacy organization. In the past, he worked on Capitol Hill and served in policy and government relations roles for several other organizations in Washington, D.C. He was also formerly a prosecutor in Maryland. He has BA from Lafayette College and a JD from The Catholic University of America.

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