2017 Nominees Section
Position: Physician, Medical Director
Organization: St. Joseph Health
What role does your nominee have in senior care and senior care issues?
Dr. Michael Malouf takes pride in being an old-fashioned doctor; the kind of doctor who knows his patients and their families well. He even makes house calls. He is Board Certified in Family Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine and has been practicing at St. Joseph Health for 25 years. He began his career at La Amistad, a community clinic that cares for some of our most vulnerable and underserved patients. Many of these patients are seniors with limited resources and no medical insurance. Dr. Malouf became skilled at caring for patients with chronic illnesses that often went untreated due to lack of resources. In 1998, Dr. Malouf received the St. Joseph Health Values in Action Award for Dignity for the kind of care he provided to patients at the clinic. “It is important that my patient’s emotional and spiritual care needs are met. Personal connections with others have made this a worthwhile career.” One of the Nurse Practitioners at La Amistad remembers that he was even making home visits back in the early days of the clinic; she added “he is a champion for our most vulnerable of our society as well as a wonderful colleague and mentor."
After serving at La Amistad, Dr. Malouf began providing care in the Family Medicine setting at St. Joseph Heritage where he cares for seniors with complex medical issues and chronic disease. In 2008, it was a natural transition for Dr. Malouf to begin caring for patients at the end of their life as Medical Director for St Joseph Hospice.
Why should this person be nominated
Dr Malouf is a hero to his patients and their families, colleagues and staff for many reasons however, the two that seem to emerge when talking with others are: generosity of time and humility.
Like most physicians, Dr. Malouf’s day begins at the break of dawn. However, more than likely he has spent the night answering multiple calls from the St. Joseph Hospice team; calls to relieve a cancer patient’s pain or to ease the anxiety of an elderly patient with end stage dementia. Sometimes these calls are to talk about a particularly challenging case. Even if it is in the middle of the night, Dr. Malouf is there to listen. Dr. James Roum commented that Dr. Malouf is a “personal benchmark for how a physician should use their ears to listen and their heart to care.” One Hospice Social Worker shared: “He has the passion to do the right thing at the right time for the person in need. He is there for all of us. One might think he is going out of his way for just you but he does that for everyone."
For Dr. Malouf, listening is one of the most important things he can do for his patients, families and the staff that work with him. “When I go into an exam room I realize that the patient has taken time out of their day to see me, I respect that and want to give them my very best care.” Dr. Malouf knows that many senior patients need a little extra time to process information or formulate questions. “He is the perfect ‘bridge’ between the science of medicine and the heart of his elderly patients. He can beautifully explain complicated information in a way that can be totally understood by his patient. And not only that, but he does it in a way that leaves the patient - and family - calm and comforted. His style, his persona, allows him to connect with patients and families, other caregivers and everyone he comes in contact with.” (Pharmacist at La Amistad Clinic). Consider what one of his patients recently shared: “I am a complex patient the kind that makes most doctors cringe. Dr. Malouf is open to see what most won’t. He sees ME. He is kind, supportive and cares beyond any doctor I have ever met. He may have a waiting room filled with patients but you’d never know it because he treats you like you’re his only patient.”
In addition to managing a full Family Medicine practice and serving as St. Joseph Hospice Medical Director for the past 10 years, Dr. Malouf has volunteered two Saturdays a month at the Lestonnac Free Clinic for the past 7 years. His heart has always been to serve the disadvantaged and to promote a sense of community. Dr. Malouf’s generosity of time is not limited to his patients, he is often found after church services on Sunday surrounded by members asking his advice or help with any variety of medical issues. “Dr. Malouf is many things to many people not the least of which is a kind, knowledgeable, gentle, and loving doctor. What better acknowledgment of a doctor’s work than, to have those around him ask to be his patients. When the priest of our church was dying of pancreatic cancer several years ago, he asked Mike to be his physician. It was beautiful and heartbreaking at the same time, but Mike did what he does and cared for our dying priest, with respect, dignity, and love until his last breath. This is the way he treats all his patients. I have seen how Mike cares for people – from his own family to complete strangers. I continually see him put aside his own needs to serve others. I have seen him sacrifice much for his life’s work. He has given of himself in so many ways, just one small example is how willing he is to speak with our parishioners who have health concerns, or are trying to understand the ailments of their loved ones. I know few people who are as calm, as peaceful, and as humble as Mike.”
Dr. Malouf rarely says no when asked for help. He will give up a Saturday to volunteer at a clinic or sit on a panel to educate the community about the importance of planning ahead and having conversations with your family and providers about end-of-life care. He is also known for sharing his gift of music. He volunteers for the Irvine Symphony and has been known to play his cello at home visits for hospice patients. He has played alongside other physicians for patients at St. Joseph Center for Cancer Prevention and Treatment and at the annual hospice celebration of life services. To Dr. Malouf, our patients are more than their diagnoses. He values the need to care for them- mind, body and soul. Dr. Joe Preston, Hospice Medical Director shared that “Mike Malouf is a kind soul with the biggest heart. He is always willing to take the extra time to meet the demands of his patients, coworkers, and colleagues. Although a man of few words, his intentions are far reaching! We all benefit from his presence! “
For Dr. Malouf practicing medicine is a calling to serve, not just a daily job. He is “a humble, caring physician who always tries to do the right thing.” Raymond Casciari, MD, former Chief of Staff, St. Joseph Hospital. Dr. Malouf truly has a humble servant’s heart particularly when it comes to caring for patients at the end of life. He often shares that it is his responsibility to ensure that his patient’s pain and symptoms are managed so that they are free to “complete their lives.” Sister Mary described what Dr. Malouf accomplishes as a hospice physician with this: “humans can help God's plans to bring life and to make the journey to death whole and peaceful.
“I recall a night when I made a joint home visit with Dr. Malouf to see one of our hospice patients who was dying. We entered the patient's bedroom with her husband present. After assessing her, Dr. Malouf knelt down at the side of her bed, held her hand and told her, 'You are going to be okay.' It was exactly what the patient and her husband needed to hear in that very tender moment.” For the care that he provides to hospice patients and their families, Dr. Malouf recently received the St Joseph Home Health Values in Action for Justice Award and many remarked on his humble response to this recognition. “Whenever he is thanked or honored he seems embarrassed, as though it is simply what everyone would do, not realizing his special gifts.” Several of the nurses he works with remarked that he always values their role on the team. “Dr. Malouf is honest and compassionate and has great respect for nurses and their input.” His humble presence has been a gift to the patients he has cared for and the staff that have been privileged to work alongside him.
Father Michael Tassos, Dr. Malouf’s Priest shared with us that “he is truly one of those rare gems of life that makes a substantial difference in the world. I have known Dr. Malouf for a number of years now and he is always very gracious with his time and talents. Whether he is giving comfort and support to a dying person or writing a prescription for a patient, he never stops giving of himself. I am blessed to see Dr. Malouf every week because in addition to all of his other responsibilities, he is also the choir director at my church. And even with this, he humbly gives of himself so that others may be lifted up.” There are several patients, friends, colleagues and co-workers who would be honored to speak on Dr. Malouf’s behalf. In closing, hearing from his own father may be enough: “He honors all of us by his fineness. I am pleased that others recognize what I have always known."