Our Executive Team
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.
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 has served 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.
Christine Khandelwal, DO
Vice President of Education and Strategic Outreach
Dr. Khandelwal developed the Transitions LifeCare Inpatient Palliative Care Service at WakeMed Health and Hospitals. She served as the Inpatient Medical Director of that team until transitioning to her current role as vice president of education and strategic outreach. Dr. Khandelwal’s philosophy in education has always been guided by the premise that interprofessional medical education training in a community-based setting provides a realistic view of collaboration among community partners.
With her experience and expertise, Dr. Khandelwal has provided formal lectures for interdisciplinary audiences at the local level (Wake AHEC conferences), at the state level (NC Pharmaceutical Association conference), and at the national level as a keynote speaker (Social Work HPN). Dr. Khandelwal has been awarded the Wake AHEC Teaching Award in 2018, was recognized as a TBJ Health Care Hero in 2019, and received a Campbell Primary Care Champions Award in 2021 to support her role in improving care to people within our communities.
Dr. Khandelwal serves in several leadership roles to represent the field of hospice and palliative medicine: NHPCO Palliative Care Council, NC Professionals Health Program, and the NC Medical Board, where as the first hospice and palliative medicine physician in the state to serve on the Board, she is participating in decisions on important issues such as fair access to restricted medications and improved access to care across the state.
Mary Lucas, MSHCM
Vice President of Marketing and Business Development
Mary earned a master’s degree in health care management from Johns Hopkins University and a bachelor’s degree in marketing from The University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Following progressive roles in sales, marketing, and health care public policy, Mary joined Transitions LifeCare in 2019 initially serving as the director of business development. Promoted to vice president of marketing in 2021, she is responsible for developing, monitoring, and communicating business strategy and strategic priorities. She is also responsible for pursuing new partnerships, contracts, and business opportunities within health systems, payers, community organizations, value-based purchasing, and alternative payment models. Mary oversees marketing, sales, consumer education, corporate branding, and communication strategies to drive awareness of and admission in Transitions LifeCare’s various services and programs. In addition to her work at Transitions LifeCare, Mary serves on the Next Generation Leadership Advisory Council for the NHPCO as well as the AHHC Hospice Leaders Council.
A Raleigh native, Mary spends time with her two rescue dogs, Vespa and Knots, when not working and volunteering.
Nicole Martin, MBA, BSN, RN, CHPN, CHC
Vice President of Quality and Compliance, Chief Compliance Officer
Nicole earned her MBA and BSN at Western Governors University and is certified in hospice & palliative care and healthcare compliance. Her background includes experience in clinical management, education, risk assessment, and compliance. Nicole, who joined Transitions LifeCare in 2018, is responsible for the overall management of corporate compliance and performance improvement. She also ensures the organization continues to meet standards and maintain Medicare, Medicaid, state, and federal requirements.
Since 2019, Nicole has served on the board of directors for the Hospice and Palliative Credentialing Center, whose mission is to advance expert care in serious illness. She became the president-elect in 2021 and is a member of the finance and audit committee.
Prior to joining Transitions LifeCare, Nicole served as director of quality & compliance at Samaritan Healthcare & Hospice in Marlton, NJ where she instituted a company-wide risk assessment program to identify and mitigate risk for a nonprofit hospice and participated in the National Partnership Hospice Innovations (NPHI) national work group.
Chief Financial Officer/Chief Operating Officer
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 Hospice of Wake County in 1993 initially serving in the positions of business manager and staff accountant. She was appointed vice president of finance and operations in 2002 and CFO/COO in 2021 and has been honored to be instrumental in the hospice and end-of-life industry through its many changes and growth. Born and raised in New Jersey, Toni has lived in the Triangle area since the 1980s.
Laura Patel, MD, FAAHPM
Chief Medical Officer
Dr. Patel joined Transitions LifeCare in 2013 as medical director and now serves as Chief Medical Officer. She oversees the medical staff, the community-based and hospital-based palliative care programs, the Transitions Kids program and medical oversight for Transitions HospiceCare. Her interests include finding innovative care models to provide palliative care for people with advanced illness in collaboration with community partners, as well as ongoing efforts to reduce barriers to hospice care.
Dr. Patel is a fellow of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. She earned her medical degree from the University of Minnesota and completed her residency in internal medicine followed by a fellowship in geriatric medicine at the University of North Carolina. She is board certified in Internal Medicine, Geriatric Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine. In 2017, Dr. Patel was named AHHC’s “Physician of the Year” and one of TBJ’s “40 Under 40.” In 2019, she was named as one of AAHPM’s Emerging Leaders. She served on the North Carolina IOM Taskforce on Serious Illness and remains active in the NC Serious Illness Coalition (NCSI). She also serves on the board of Resources for Seniors.
Jackie Ring, PhD, RN, FACHE, NEA-BC
Chief Clinical Officer
As Chief Clinical Officer, Jackie is responsible for oversight of all clinical services. Prior to joining Transitions LifeCare in 2017 as Vice President of Clinical Services, Chief Innovation Officer, Jackie 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 patient-centered care, and has served as a member, vice chair, and chair of the North Carolina Board of Nursing, and as a member of the AHHC Board of Directors.
Jackie 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 MBA/MHA degree, and at UNC Chapel Hill where she earned 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. She is originally from Charlotte, NC and enjoys calling the Cary/Raleigh area home.
Melissa Short, MBA, SPHR
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 a senior-level certification from the HR Certification Institute®, is a board member of the Capital Area Workforce Development Board, and is an active member of the Triangle Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity Alliance. 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 daughter.