As president and CEO of Treasure Coast Hospice, one might expect Susan de Cuba to have a degree in counseling and a somber personality. But you’d only be half right, for while the Vero Beach native does indeed have a degree in counseling and the ability to be serious, her smile is an easy gift she shares, and her sense for fun and love of life are apparent at first meeting.
De Cuba’s background—which combines experience in counseling, education and health care—help to provide comfort, vision and compassionate care for patients who are experiencing their final chapter in life and the loved ones surrounding them.
After graduating from high school and starting her college career at Indian River State College, de Cuba finished her bachelor’s degree at Florida Atlantic University and her master’s in counseling at the University of South Florida in Tampa. She then worked for several years in education as a counselor and trainer for reading education programs. “My last job in education was a super job, traveling around the country, helping schools put in special mentoring programs to help encourage reading in students,” de Cuba says. “But my own two children were getting older, and I didn’t enjoy the heavy travel schedule and missing so much of their teens.”
Looking for a career that suited her but kept her closer to home, de Cuba settled on a position as a pharmaceutical representative—a choice she says turned out to be the only job that wasn’t a good fit for her personality. “At my core, I am very mission driven,” she says, “so though it was a great position, it wasn’t a good fit for who I was and what I had to offer my community and the world. I knew something was missing.”
Serendipitously, the company was bought out, giving de Cuba a six-month window to look for a better fit, and it was then when she transitioned to a position with the Visiting Nurse Association where she was introduced to the hospice health care delivery model.
“It was new to me, and I became more fascinated as I learned,” she says. “It’s truly holistic and interdisciplinary. It looked at not just the patient but the family and all the loved ones being affected—not just physically, but in all aspects of the person. That connected very well with my counseling background. There are so many social and emotional and psychological issues and family dynamics. Seeing a model of health care that addressed all of these was really just the best thing since sliced bread. It was amazing. I came at it from curiosity and learning and decided that’s where I had something to learn and something to offer.”
This summer, de Cuba will celebrate 13 years with Treasure Coast Hospice, having started as a community education representative and working her way through the organization to her current position as president and CEO. Still, she says she continues to learn and grow within the organization. Her goal is to build a team of community liaisons, outreach and professionals to help align the organization’s effort for the best impact to educate the community that death is a normal part of life not to be feared, but rather one that requires education and informed decision-making.
For de Cuba, the hospice care provided to nearly 500 patients daily in the three Treasure Coast Hospice houses and that which is delivered in homes, hospitals and care facilities around the Treasure Coast, is all about providing quality of life for as long as possible for those we love and for ourselves.
She encourages others to start conversations early with their own families, saying, “Whether it’s your mom and dad or your spouse, get comfortable early in finding out what is important to those you love and what will be important in the last phase of life. What will you consider to be quality of life? When we are comfortable and calm and not in crisis, that’s when to have that conversation and find out what your loved one wants so when the time comes, the stress is diminished.”
Perhaps that comfort with the natural process of life and death is what makes it so easy for de Cuba to smile.