Judy Leach

Judy Leach
Episode 94

Join host, Japhet De Oliveira, as he sits down with Judy Leach, Administrator at Adventist Health Mendocino Coast, for a conversation about her journey to healthcare, love of chai tea, and the importance of hope.
Libsyn Podcast
"It is a joy for me to be able to affirm others. It just comes so naturally because I believe life is just filled with incredible blessings."

Narrator: Welcome friends to another episode of The Story and Experience podcast. Join your host, Japhet De Oliveira, with his guest today and discover the moments that shape us, our families and communities.

Japhet De Oliveira: Hey, welcome friends to another episode of the Story and Experience podcast. I'm delighted with our guest, I'm excited for the conversations we're going to have. You'll see when you hear their story and the leadership experience they have, what a great person they actually are. If you're brand new to this experience, we have a hundred questions. We become progressively more open and more vulnerable closer we get to 100, and the guest gets to choose where they want to go in that. I will start with first 10, so I'm going to begin straight away and start with number one. Could you tell us your name and does anybody ever mispronounce it?

Judy Leach: My name is Judy Leach and people never mispronounce my first name, however, the last name, people pause before they say the word leach sometimes because of the connotation it might have. And so they thought, Lech, Leach. No, it's Leach.

Japhet De Oliveira: That's fantastic. That's good. That's good. So Judy, what do you do for work?

Judy Leach: I have the honor to serve as the administrator of Adventist Health, Mendocino Coast. It's located in gorgeous northern California, the most rural hospital within Adventist Health. And we are nestled on the Mendocino coast where the redwoods, the vineyards, and these ocean waves all converge. Not a bad place to live, work and play.

Japhet De Oliveira: That's fantastic. Tell me, how long have you been in this role?

Judy Leach: I've been in this role for about three and a half years, but I've been with Adventist Health for 17 years and have had the humble honor of being in healthcare for more than 25 years.

Japhet De Oliveira: That's fantastic. Now you've done a series of different roles in healthcare, right?

Judy Leach: I have.

Japhet De Oliveira: Which is why I was alluding to a little bit at the beginning of the podcast. Tell us a few of those things.

Judy Leach: Well, it's been a really interesting journey. Japhet, I come from a family of people who are entrenched in healthcare. And growing up I said, "That's not an industry I want to be in. There's got to be more to life than healthcare." And so I went a different route. My undergrad was in broadcast journalism, and I had the pleasure of beginning my career in radio and television. One of the stories that I covered was for a hospital in Dallas, Texas, and soon after a hospital in Fort Worth, Texas. That hospital happened to be owned by Advent Health, which is our sister organization. They asked me to come on board, which it was an honor to do so, and I have stayed in healthcare, never looking back.

So the roles that I've been in have allowed me to have authentic conversations with patients, with staff, and with our communities at large in the realm of communication. And then I transitioned into strategy. So what an honor to be able to look at what does it mean to grow access to care? And I had the pleasure of doing that in Oregon, Washington, and Hawaii. And one day I got tapped on the shoulder and said, "Judy, while you continue your work in communication and in strategy, would you consider serving as a hospital president at a critical access hospital?" And I thought, "What in the world? My joy is connecting with people." And they said, "That's exactly what we're looking for. We're looking for someone that can connect with people in a community that needs to be loved." And so what an honor to get to do that.

Japhet De Oliveira: That's fantastic. I've had the privilege to be able to work with you a little bit, and so it's been great to see. Great to see. Let's go into just your morning routine, when you wake up in the morning and first drink of the day. Do you have coffee, tea, water, liquid green smoothie?

Judy Leach: I'm a chai person.

Japhet De Oliveira: Okay.

Judy Leach: I'm originally from Mumbai, India, and we drink a lot of chai in India. And so masala chai is really my go-to.

Japhet De Oliveira: Do you make it all yourself?

Judy Leach: I do make it myself. So cardamom or ginger chai are really my favorites.

Japhet De Oliveira: Fantastic. That's great. So you mentioned this already, but where were you born?

Judy Leach: I was born in Mumbai, India, and I was raised in Punay, India. At the age of seven, I had the opportunity of coming to the States and landed in Washington DC, spent just a couple of months there before my family brought me to California. And so I was raised in the Bay Area. Ironically, that's just a couple of hours from where I live today. And so I feel like life has come full circle.

Japhet De Oliveira: Yeah. Hey, that's fantastic. When you were a kid now, either in Mumbai or in DC, what did you imagine you were going to grow up to be? You said something about not being in healthcare. So was that the way when you were a child?

Judy Leach: When you grow up in a family where everybody, literally, it feels like Indians either choose engineering or they choose medicine, right? So I came on a plane, I'll never forget this, I was nearly seven years old when I came on that plane, and I was brought to this country by my uncle. And I came here to be reunited with my mother. So at the age of seven, I get on a plane thinking when I land in America, everyone I see is going to be blonde hair, blue-eyed, bare skinned. And I arrived and some of my family met me at the airport. And to my dismay, they all looked like me. Brown skin, brown eyes. I had this preconceived notion as a child because the missionaries that were there were all, of course, they were Anglo and had a totally different look. But what I've learned to appreciate so much is that it is this gorgeous diversity that we all bring that makes us whole, and it is the connector of souls.

Japhet De Oliveira: That's awesome. That's fantastic. Judy, if people were to describe your personality, would they say you were an extrovert or an introvert, and would you agree with their conclusion?

Judy Leach: I am very much an extrovert, and I would agree with people who say that about me. Because I thrive on relationships, I thrive in being in community with people. But I also need that time and space to be still and silent.

Japhet De Oliveira: Yeah, that's good. That's good. Now, are you an early riser or late night owl?

Judy Leach: You will find that it's easy to have a conversation with me at 10:00 at night. I enjoy those late night dialogues, but life has taught me as I got older, that mornings are good too. So my typical day starts at 6:00 AM.

Japhet De Oliveira: Okay. All right. So this morning when you woke up, what was the first thing that went through your mind?

Judy Leach: I get to have a conversation with Japhet today.

Japhet De Oliveira: Oh, okay. Well thank you for that. Hey, that's great. That's great. All right, here's the last one I'm going to ask of you and then you get to pick the numbers. It's a leadership question. Are you a backseat driver?

Judy Leach: I enjoy sitting in the backseat, but not driving from the backseat, because I believe that people should be empowered to find their own journey. And I enjoy being part of that journey so that, especially leaders, leaders have the opportunity to do what they do best. And if I was a backseat driver, I'm afraid that their best might not always come forward. So what a joy to be able to be on that journey with them in the backseat, sometimes at the side seat, but it's not essential to be the one driving.

Japhet De Oliveira: Good, good. All right. Floor is open. Which number would you like to pick?

Judy Leach: Oh, why don't we just start with the number nine.

Japhet De Oliveira: Oh, actually, sorry, the first 10 I did. So now it's 11 and above.

Judy Leach: Okay, let's go for that.

Japhet De Oliveira: All right, so number 11. Tell us about the most adventurous food or meal you've ever eaten.

Judy Leach: I love to travel, and so some of my favorite meals have been in other countries. And one of those happened to be on a trip to China. And so to sit at the table with dear friends and family and to share the most scrumptious meal. I happen to be mostly vegetarian, and people said, well, you may have a hard time with that when you're traveling. I didn't. I had the most delicious experience and it was at a hot pot restaurant and just steaming with fresh vegetables, vegetables that I hadn't tasted since I was a child, and the delicious seasonings that came with it. So yeah, my favorite meal absolutely was in China.

Japhet De Oliveira: That's great. Oh, fantastic. All right. That was number 11. So where next?

Judy Leach: Let's go to 15.

Japhet De Oliveira: 15. What's the one thing that you always misplace?

Judy Leach: Just one?

Japhet De Oliveira: Yeah.

Judy Leach: I often misplace my phone, especially if I'm not wearing pockets.

Japhet De Oliveira: Yeah, sure.

Judy Leach: And so I am really grateful because now my Apple Watch helps me detect where I have left that phone.

Japhet De Oliveira: I have no idea what you're talking about.

Judy Leach: So you know when you're busy hustling from place to place, especially if I'm in the hospital in the hallways and I might be stopping to have a rounding conversation with someone, and in that conversation I like to set my phone aside so I'm not interrupted. And so you just never know which department I might've left that in. But thankfully, this wonderful technology of an Apple Watch has helped solve that problem.

Japhet De Oliveira: Solve the problem. They designed it for people like you and I. That's great.

Judy Leach: Thank goodness.

Japhet De Oliveira: All right, that was 15. Where next?

Judy Leach: Let's go to 19.

Japhet De Oliveira: 19. Oh, what's your exercise routine?

Judy Leach: Oh man, I will tell you, I don't have an exercise routine, but back to the Apple Watch again, it keeps me accountable. And so I've set it with a couple of goals, and some of those goals make sure that I know what I'm doing while I am at the coast, which means take time to go out to these trails and get my steps in. And so it's not so much a routine, it's just that piece that tries to keep me accountable to live a healthier life.

Japhet De Oliveira: That's fantastic. That's good. Good. Well, I'm glad you're doing that as well, right? That was 19. So where would you like to go next?

Judy Leach: I'm going to go to 21 because one of my kids is 21 years old.

Japhet De Oliveira: Oh, great. Share the best compliment you've ever received.

Judy Leach: Compliments are hard for me to hear. I'm grateful for them, but I would say one of the most meaningful compliments came from someone else who has been on a similar life journey in recent years as I have been. And she recently lost her husband, and so to be able to sit with her and at moments just remain silent, and at other moments just be that listening ear and for her to say, "I finally found somebody that gets it."

Japhet De Oliveira: But that is significant, Judy, that is. I have to ask though, and this is not one of the questions because what I've known of you is that you are a person who actually does give a lot of compliments to people. You're very affirming of people and encouraging. So why is it hard for you to receive?

Judy Leach: That's a great question.

Japhet De Oliveira: Yeah, I know. That was like question 160.

Judy Leach: I thought we stopped at a hundred, Japhet.

Japhet De Oliveira: No, I know.

Judy Leach: Why is it so hard for me to receive? That's a great question. It is a joy for me to be able to affirm others. It just comes so naturally because I believe life is just filled with incredible blessings. And being able to do that for somebody else means living in a space of gratitude. And so I am learning what it means to be gracious and accepting a compliment and taking that to heart.

Japhet De Oliveira: It's good encouragement. Good encouragement. I've seen this. This is a common thread, and so I was intrigued by that, so yeah. Yeah, that's good. All right, where next?

Judy Leach: Let's go to 22, because that's the age of my other child.

Japhet De Oliveira: If you could be anywhere right now, where would you be? And I know it's right here now. No, no, I'm kidding. Where would it be?

Judy Leach: It is right here, right now.

Japhet De Oliveira: Anywhere.

Judy Leach: If I could be anywhere right now... you know, where I am here on the Mendocino coast with the staff that I get to work with, and this community, is about as good as it gets. This is a community filled with love, openness, acceptance, willingness to help neighbors. And we say it's neighbors caring for neighbors because it's a really small rural community and we are not on the way to anything. In fact, we're living on the edge of the world right here. The ocean is our backyard. And so getting to live here with these people is rather remarkable.

But I've also had the pleasure of serving in communities where I have felt such a rich blessing and visiting communities, one of those places was Rombe, Fiji. And it's a tiny island that's mostly just natives. There aren't tourists on that island and it is very hard to get to. Most people don't know that particular island even exists. But I had the pleasure of spending some time there in clinics, and I just found that the love and the appreciation and the deep rootedness and the joy that I felt on that island was like nothing I'd ever felt before.

Japhet De Oliveira: That's great. That's great. Brilliant. All right, beautiful. Where next? That was 22.

Judy Leach: Let's go to 35.

Japhet De Oliveira: 35. All right. Oh, share a special interest, a unique talent that you have.

Judy Leach: I don't know how special this is, but it is what motivates my life. And that is just a connection that I have in sitting down with people and hearing their story. It is what brings me closer to a connection with them because people's stories do so much for us to also look within ourselves and understand who we are. And so to be able to sit down with a cup of chai and have a conversation with somebody and hear their story, it gives me something that I can then utilize to hopefully pay it forward for somebody else.

Japhet De Oliveira: Oh, that's good. That's good. That's very good. Appreciate that. All right. Where next? 35. And I think that is unique talent, by the way. I think that's unique.

Judy Leach: Thanks. Let's go to 40.

Japhet De Oliveira: 40. All right. Tell us about a time where you failed.

Judy Leach: Oh my, just one?

Japhet De Oliveira: Yeah, yeah.

Judy Leach: I think failure is such an important part of life. I think it's a healthy part of life and it is where the greatest learning happens. I fail frequently, but where I fail is when I don't believe I've given someone else that which they need. When I fail is when I'm not totally mindful of the conversation happening in front of me and think five steps ahead. And so the journey I am on is be mindful of this very minute and this very important conversation in front of me so that I don't fail the person that is delivering that message to me.

Japhet De Oliveira: Good wisdom. That's pretty good wisdom. And I think a lot could do that as well. All right, that was 40. Where next?

Judy Leach: Let's go to 46.

Japhet De Oliveira: 46. Oh. Tell us about the best book you've ever read.

Judy Leach: There's a book by the authors Small and... Oh, it's Trent and Smalley and it's called The Blessing. And it's these two individuals who have collaborated to talk about the rootedness of life and how important it is to give the blessing to someone else so that through their life journey they are walking with that really essential part that is deep within them. And only if you've been given the blessing by your family, by those closest to you, are you able to share a blessing with somebody else. And so the authors, yeah, I believe it's Trent and Smalley who wrote the book, The Blessing. It has carried me through life. Receive the blessing is so important, so that you in turn can share that with others.

Japhet De Oliveira: That's very true. That's very true. Good. All right, where next? That was 46.

Judy Leach: Let's go to 52.

Japhet De Oliveira: 52. All right. Share what... this is great for you. Share what motivates you.

Judy Leach: Oh, what motivates you? The joy that motivates me, and I really believe joy is so essential, finding those moments to spark joy is the connector. And it's people, it's back to people. It's never going to be a place or a thing, but it's going to be people. So people motivate me, and when I get to be inspired by someone who has achieved meaningful contribution to this world, that motivates me because it tells me this journey that we're on, it's never about us. It's what are we doing to make it better for somebody else.

Japhet De Oliveira: That's good. That actually ties back into the whole idea of being blessed and blessing others as well. Yeah, that's good. All right, great. Where next?

Judy Leach: Let's try 59.

Japhet De Oliveira: 59. In your opinion, what subject should you add to a school curriculum and what age would it be?

Judy Leach: Oh, I like this question. Having raised two kids, this is an important one. I think that schools need to teach young people how to be confident in who they are. I believe more attention needs to be spent on what are those things that help make us a better human being? We go to tactics a lot in curriculum, right? And we go into mathematical equations and making sure that we've got correct grammar, all which are important. But teaching somebody life skills, we don't see a lot of that in curriculum these days, and the application that it has on thriving in life. Sometimes it's maybe just how do you cope with life, but I wish there was more of that curriculum that we're all taught at any age or stage.

Japhet De Oliveira: Oh, so you'd love it done at all different ages?

Judy Leach: Absolutely.

Japhet De Oliveira: Okay.

Judy Leach: I think it needs to start young. I think some of these life skills should start at a very young age. And we as parents, that's our responsibility. And I'm grateful when I see teachers that come alongside and also inspire others to do the same.

Japhet De Oliveira: That is great. Good. All right. Where next?

Judy Leach: Let's try 69.

Japhet De Oliveira: 69. All right. Tell us about one experience that you'd like to relive over and over again.

Judy Leach: It's my favorite experiences on the island of Kauai. 20 years, my husband and I would go every year. That happens to be our favorite place. In fact, it's the principal side of the island. And there is a hammock tied between two coconut trees on the edge of the water, which is this aquamarine color that just looks like sparkling jewels. And the sand is white and the breeze is gentle and you feel the sun kissing your face. And at that moment, all aligns as it should be because you feel one with the person that you are with, you feel one with God, you feel one with the universe. And it is just magical. And for nearly 20 years, we would go and take a great book and find time on that hammock and simply absorb the sounds around us.

Japhet De Oliveira: Oh, that's beautiful. That's really good. Thank you for painting that picture. You kind of described where it literally is, so it feels like we could all go find it. It's great. And we all probably need it. All right, where next?

Judy Leach: Let's go to 74.

Japhet De Oliveira: 74. Oh, this is great for you. What gives you hope?

Judy Leach: Oh, I love this too. Hope is probably one of my favorite words. For me, the word hope is my everything. It is what allows me to put one foot in front of the other. It's what allows me to take my next breath. Hope is the journey that we are on, but more importantly, the journey that I am on to look at, not just surviving, but thriving.

Those who know me know a story of a different trajectory that I am on today than I was eight years ago. And when you go through the loss of a spouse, hope is your everything. The hope of being able to still show up and be the best possible version of yourself, that version looks so different because it's filled with empathy and understanding through pain and loss, but it is also knowing that hope rises and nothing can take hope away. Even your deepest, deepest despair of pain. Japhet, you and I understand what this means, but hope, hope is, it's not cotton candy, it's tangible. It is what really inspires the ability for us to say there is something better. And that word better is really hard because better doesn't mean better than what we had, but it means better than in our deepest moments. Hope allows us to rise.

Japhet De Oliveira: Yeah, that's very true, Judy. I have qualified my hope with the word physical, physical hope. It's really tangible. It's really tangible. So I'm with you on that. Absolutely. Judy, we have time for two last ones. So two last numbers. Where would you like to go for your last two?

Judy Leach: Let's go to 77.

Japhet De Oliveira: 77, right. Oh, share one of your most cup filling experiences with us. Just one of them.

Judy Leach: A cup filling experience. Well, it actually happened the other day in our ER, and it happens often in our ERs. But when you walk into an emergency department, and because of my personal experience, safety and quality of patients is so essential, but taking the time to also have conversations with the family members of patients is monumental.

When you walk into a hospital, there's a lot of anxiety of the unknown. And so for me it was being able to just sit there with a total stranger knowing that her husband had been brought in and they were trying to rule out a stroke and they had taken all of the appropriate measures, but you have to sit there and wonder what is next?

And so one of the most meaningful conversations happened just sitting there holding the hand of a total stranger and hearing the stories that they shared about their love. Because those are the moments that matter in life, those are the priceless moments that matter in life, and it causes us to think deeply about where we are in our own relationships.

Japhet De Oliveira: Yeah, they are. That's so true. I love that. All right, Judy, our last one. I can't believe it, but yeah, our last one.

Judy Leach: Let's go to 94.

Japhet De Oliveira: 94. All right. Oh, if you could change one thing in the world, what would it be?

Judy Leach: If I could change one thing in the world, it would be allow people the opportunity to be filled with kindness, grace, and gratitude. I know that's three things, but those come together in the human expression of delivering love in a world that happens to be filled with such complex polarizing times. If there was one thing that I wish for, it's that we would find what do we have in common with each other to make our journeys together one that can be more harmonious.

Japhet De Oliveira: That is a good word to end on, Judy. Thank you so much for the time for sharing these moments that actually have made you the great leader that you are today. I think that I'd like to encourage people, I usually say it's good for us to be able to ask good questions of each other and even have a cup of tea, but I think I'm going to qualify it today by saying we should have some masala chai. And we should listen to each other's stories, because I agree with you that the stories change us and challenge us and help us be better people. So it's great. Thank you, Judy.

Judy Leach: Thank you, Japhet.

Japhet De Oliveira: Hey, blessings to everybody. We will connect again soon.

Judy Leach: Take care.

Narrator: Thank you for joining us for the Story and Experience podcast. We invite you to read, watch, and submit your story and experience at adventisthealth.org/story. The Story and Experience podcast was brought to you by Adventist Health through the Office of Culture.