Doreen Der-McLeod

Model-establishing leader in elder health care center program management

Praised as “extremely mission-focused” and “one of the most valuable and treasured leaders” in her community, Doreen Der-McLeod has motivated both clients and colleagues to achieve their very best. With a humble yet bold determination, she is cited as a model of what social workers should be.

After earning a biology degree at UC Berkeley, Der-McLeod was a VISTA volunteer in rural Kentucky, then returned to her hometown of San Francisco to work with clients at Donaldina Cameron House, a community support center named for a missionary who rescued female Chinese immigrants from indentured servitude. Inspired by the skills and caring of the Cameron House social workers, Der-McLeod earned an MSW at Rutgers University in 1970.

Returning home as a bilingual social worker, Der-McLeod served at Chinatown’s Youth Service Center and then its Community Children’s Center, and remained active with Cameron House’s Christian services and their college-age group.

In 1982, she moved to On Lok Senior Health Services. Assisting older adults for over 45 years, On Lok has grown from its humble roots as an adult day health care center to a complete medical and health-related services program and pioneered the holistic, independence-fostering model known today as the Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly. In 1997, PACE became a federally certified Medicare program adopted in over 30 states. Der-McLeod trained and supervised On Lok’s staff of social workers. She also spearheaded efforts to assist many older adult clients in obtaining U.S. citizenship.

In 1999, Der-McLeod became executive director of Cameron House. Along with fundraising, planning, public relations and other leadership, she also met the special challenge to address issues of sexual abuse at the agency. Helping create a “healing task force” that advocated for victims of sexual abuse, particularly those with language barriers that could affect their access to services, was one of her social-justice passions. Though she retired in 2009, the task force continues the mission she shaped for it.

Der-McLeod also served on and led committees for neighborhood improvement in the dense urban center of Chinatown. In her long service with the Committee for Better Parks and Recreation and several other lobbying groups and community projects, she helped raise funds and negotiate for the renovation of every park in Chinatown and even to increase available outdoor spaces.

For her distinguished and far-reaching career serving women and girls, young children with developmental disabilities, adolescents needing healthy recreational outlets, older adults, and many others, Der-McLeod was named KQED’s Local Hero of the Year in 2009. Co-workers have called her “a paragon of humane and smart care,” with an “unwavering commitment to serve the underserved.” From working with troubled teens to victims of human trafficking and domestic abuse to advocating for improved public policies, she has illustrated a dynamic and impactful image of what social workers can represent and achieve.