Below is an excerpt from the recently published book about Mesilla Valley Hospice written by Dr. Terry Meyer, one of the organization's founders and currently the Associate Medical Director of Mesilla Valley Hospice. The book, Safe Passage, may be ordered directly from the hospice office at (575) 523-4700. (All proceeds benefit Mesilla Valley Hospice.)
Once the fledging Mesilla Valley Hospice had been successfully launched by the original group of passionate volunteers and the decision was made to accept Medicare funding, Margaret Connealy, M.S.W. was hired in 1985 to serve as the organzation's Executive Director. Margaret was a social worker by training, so during her initial years of service as Executive Director, she also provided social work services to the patients that MVH served. It quickly became apparent that Margaret had found her calling in hospice, as she advocated for patient choice and dignity for patients at the end of their lives. This was revolutionary during a period when hospice care was largely unheard of and most physicians felt their terminally ill patients should remain in a hospital.
She worked with Gilbert Perez, then head of the Doña Ana County Indigent Funds Division, and lobbied at the state level to enact a law that would allow New Mexico counties to utilize funds for what became known as nonprofit "safety net providers." This ensured that health care services of all varieties were available to all New Mexico residents. Before the passage of that bill, these funds were only available to hospitals. As a result of the passage of the bill, providers like MVH, Ben Archer, La Clinica de Familia, St. Luke's and other non-profits could qualify to receive funding to provide care for the county's low income population. This particular accomplishment by Margaret and Gilbert has impacted the lives of countless residents of Doña Ana County in incalculable ways.
Along with championing the cause of health care services for all, Margaret's great passion became ensuring that all people had access to quality end-of-life care. During her years of service, Margaret became the voice and face of hospice in our community. One thing was always clear—Margaret always deeply cared about those who were dying. She had an incredible gift to ignite passion for the cause in others, and was well known for her dynamic speaking ability.
As time went on, it became apparent that a place was needed for those patients who could no longer safely remain in their home during their last days. Margaret spoke to the board and others in the community about the need for a hospice house. A major fundraising campaign was planned and eventually the donation of the land and building by three local physicians jump-started what has now become known as La Posada.
Margaret originally retired in December of 1994 at the completion of the original capital campaign, as she felt it was time to focus on her health and spend time with her husband. While she was away, construction of La Posada was finished and the first wing was opened in September 1998. Donna Brown served as Executive Director. Margaret had hired Donna as the financial manager for MVH in September of 1994 and the two had worked well together. So, it made sense to Donna to approach Margaret in December of 1998 about returning to MVH so that Donna could spend time with her young family. The Board of Directors agreed, and Margaret was persuaded to come out of retirement to reprise her role as head of the hospice. Margaret returned on two conditions—first, that Donna would stay on as financial manager, and second, that after five years, Donna would agree to step back into the executive director position. Margaret and Donna seemed to have a unique chemistry and mutual respect for each other that forged a tight bond.
Margaret again brought her well-known passion to hospice. During the next five years, she moved MVH forward. It became apparent within the first year that La Posada would need to expand when the demand for patient rooms necessitated a waiting list. Margaret launched a second capital campaign during her tenure, and the second wing of La Posada was added. In addition, Margaret launched the Center for Grief Services, which provided grief counseling to the entire community regardless of whether the person had a family member that received hospice services. This was yet another inroad to providing key services to the community that had never been offered before, including to those who did not have resources to pay for the services.
Margaret retired for the second time in December of 2003, but Donna persuaded her to stay on as part-time development director. Margaret worked in this capacity until she experienced a brain aneurysm, which forced her to retire for the final time.
Many people have had an impact on the success of MVH, but one can argue that Margaret Connealy is the person who seemed to most embody the hospice cause. With her selfless and tireless efforts, she grew the fledging non-profit to become an integral part of health care services in Doña Ana County. Donna Brown often said that she stood on the shoulders of a giant during her years of service at MVH—that giant was Margaret Connealy.