Transitions LifeCare – Executive Team

Executive Team


Meet Our Leaders

John Thoma, CEO
John Thoma is a graduate of Boston University where he received a B. A. degree in Spanish. He continued studies at Tufts University Graduate School of Arts and Sciences Non-Profit Institute and Tufts University School of Continuing Education concentrating in Community Economic Development and Non-Profit Management. John joined Hospice of Wake County (now Transitions LifeCare) in 1991 and has served in the capacity of Finance/MIS Manager and Chief Financial Officer. He was appointed Chief Executive Officer in August 2002.

Born and raised in St. Louis, Missouri, John has been a resident of Raleigh since 1990. In addition to his role as Chief Executive Officer, John serves on the Board of Trustees for the Hospice of Wake County Foundation and is very active in promoting quality end-of-life care at the state and national levels. John served on the Board of the United Way of the Greater Triangle (UWGT) and the NC Association for Home and Hospice Care (AHHC). Nationally, John serves as Secretary of the National Hospice and Palliative Care (NHPCO) Board of Directors and chairs the NHPCO Governance Committee. He has previously chaired the NHPCO Quality and Standards Committee and served on the Membership Committee.

Kristye Koontz Brackett, CFP®, Vice President of Philanthropy
Kristye Brackett is a Raleigh native, graduating cum laude from Meredith college B. S. degree in business finance and public administration.  Having started her career with First Union Capital Management concentrating on high net worth philanthropic advisory services, she took her first fundraising role with UNC-Chapel Hill's Kenan Flagler Business School during their Carolina First Campaign. Following a move to New York City, she was the associate director of gift planning at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. In 2008, Kristye and her family relocated back to the Triangle where she was the executive director of external relations at Duke Heart Center. Most recently she served as the director of leadership giving for her alma mater, Meredith College, helping to create the benchmarks for their second largest capital campaign, Beyond Strong: The Campaign for Meredith.

Cooper Linton, MBA, MSHA, Vice President of Marketing and Business Development
Cooper Linton graduated from Birmingham-Southern College with a BS in Business Administration. He subsequently received an Master's degree in Healthcare Administration and a Master's in Business Administration from the University of Alabama at Birmingham where he also completed his Graduate Certificate in Gerontology.

Cooper has served the healthcare industry with a focus on home- and community-based care. He previously served as an Administrator of both home health and hospice companies. His background includes several years of experience in sales planning, sales force management and business strategy design as well as quality improvement initiatives. Born and raised in rural north Alabama, Cooper relocated to the triangle area in 1999. He joined Hospice of Wake County in 2005 as the Director of Operations for the purpose of developing the new inpatient facility.

Toni Messler, Vice President of Finance and Operations
Toni Messler graduated magna cum laude from Meredith College with a degree in business administration. She has served the medical field as an office manager for physician practices and within hospital settings. Toni joined HOWC in 1993 initially serving in the positions of business manager and staff accountant. She was appointed vice president of finance and operations in 2002. Born and raised in New Jersey, Toni has lived in the Triangle area since the 1980s.

Deb Norcross, RN, CHPN, Director of Hospice and Home Health
Deb, born and raised in New York, graduated from Morrisville Agricultural and Technical College with an associate's degree in individual studies and from Onondaga Community College with an associate's degree in nursing.  Deb has been certified in hospice and palliative nursing since 2003.

Following 13 years at Crouse Hospital in Syracuse, New York, Deb and her family relocated to Apex.  She joined Hospice of Wake County (now Transitions LifeCare) in 1999 as an on-call staff nurse.  Since then, she has served as on-call team leader, clinical team leader, senior clinical team leader, and clinical manager.  Today, Deb is director of hospice and home health, where she oversees clinical aspects of Transitions HospiceCare, Transitions HomeHealth, as well as Transitions GriefCare.

Laura Patel, MD, Chief Medical Officer
Dr. Laura Neumann Patel graduated cum laude with a B.A. degree in biology from Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota.  After completing medical school at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, she moved to Chapel Hill for residency in internal medicine at University of North Carolina Hospitals.  During her residency she was awarded the Dr. David A. Ontjes Award for Excellence in Inpatient Clinical Care as well as the Golden Boots” Award for clinical leadership.  She then went on to complete a fellowship in geriatrics at UNC.

After working as a geriatrician in New Zealand, she moved to Baltimore where she joined Gilchrist Hospice and Gilchrist Greater Living. During her three years at Gilchrist, she gained experience in a variety of care settings including long term care, palliative care, and inpatient hospice. She also served as a medical director of both facility and home based hospice teams. Dr. Patel returned to the Triangle to become the Medical Director for Hospice of Wake County (now Transitions LifeCare) in 2013.

Jackie Ring, RN, PhD(c), FACHE, NEA-BC, Vice President of Clinical Services, Chief Innovation Officer
Jackie Ring is a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where she received a Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree and was inducted into the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International. She continued studies at Pfeiffer University where she earned a joint MHA/MBA degree. She is in the process of completing a Ph.D. in nursing, with a nursing systems focus. Jackie is a Fellow in the American College of Health Care Executives, and board certified by the American Nurses Credentialing Center as a Nurse Executive, Advanced. Jackie has lived in North Carolina her whole life: she is originally from Charlotte and now calls Cary home.

Jackie joined Transitions LifeCare in 2017 as Vice President of Clinical Services, Chief Innovation Officer. Prior to joining the leadership team at Transitions, she served as President/CNO of Highlands-Cashiers Hospital and Chief Operating Officer/Chief Nursing Officer at Johnston UNC Health Care, where she was responsible for overseeing design and implementation of a new hospital in Clayton. Jackie has a passion for excellence in nursing care, and has served as a member, vice chair, and chair of the North Carolina Board of Nursing.

Betty Sawyer, BSN, RN, Director of Regulatory Affairs
Betty Sawyer earned her Bachelor of Science in Nursing degree from the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. She completed studies at Lenoir Community College and Lenoir Memorial Hospital School of Nursing; at all three institutions, Betty earned honors. Betty joined Hospice of Wake County in 1990 as a nurse case manager. Through the years, she has transitioned to nurse supervisor, performance improvement and staff development manager, supervisor of home health, and currently serves as director of regulatory affairs.

Betty has created efficiencies for the agency, including the recommendation of on call voicemail reports; initiated the transition of aide scheduling from paper to electronic; set up electronic records for policies, procedures, and regulations; as well as methodology for OASIS data collection using Misys (now Allscripts) software. She has served as liaison for JCAHO accreditation, ACHC accreditation, Medicare, and licensure surveys.  Currently, Betty facilitates the Hospice Provider Network’s clinical/performance improvement committee, participates in the Association for Home and Hospice Care’s hospice compliance workgroup and AHHC’s compliance committee.

Melissa Short, MBA, SPHR, SHRM-SCP, Vice President of Human Resources
Melissa Short leads Transitions LifeCare’s talent strategy efforts. A native of Roanoke, Virginia, Melissa first came to North Carolina to attend North Carolina State University where she graduated cum laude in political science. She later continued her education at East Carolina University where she obtained her Master’s degree in business administration. Melissa has spent the bulk of her career in the for-profit healthcare sector but also has direct experience with non-profit and pharmaceutical organizations. She holds two senior level certifications from both the HR Certification Institute® and the Society for Human Resource Management. As an experienced professional, her passion is helping organizations become an excellent place to work. When she’s not working for Transitions, Melissa is spending time with her husband, Brian, a Raleigh native, and their young daughter.

Apollo Townsend Stevens, RN, DNP, Director of Hospice Home
Apollo earned her Bachelor of Science degree from The Ohio State University College of Nursing, her Master’s degree in nursing from Wright State University, and her Doctor of Nursing Practice degree from the University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa where she was inducted into the Epsilon Omega Chapter of Sigma Theta Tau International for her exceptional academic achievement. Apollo brings a wealth of management, hospice, teaching, and community engagement experience to the organization.

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