The new year is off to a rough start for Delaware Hospice.
The non-profit, end-of-life service agency laid off 52 workers this month – including 18 at its Milford office –and recently was forced to reduce the number of patients it serves by a third, as a result of changes to the way Medicare reimburses hospice care.
Despite the upheavel, agency officials said this week that the organization would continue to provide the same services, albeit on a reduced scale.
“This has been a very difficult time for us and our hearts are with the people affected by these actions,” Anne Priester, Delaware Hospice’s chief administrative officer, said this week. “But we are very much still in business and every bit as dedicated to providing the same high quality, end-of-life care and behreavement counseling everyone expects from Delaware Hospice.”
Priester said Delaware Hospice let go about one in eight staff members after tighter Medicare reimbursement rules forced the agency to cut back on the patients it serves in Delaware and two Pennsylvania counties from 600 to about 400.
“We’re still working through the process with Medicare to determine exactly who is eligible and who is not, and through those discussions we’re trying to get to an understanding of each other’s perspectives,” Priester said.
Following a special commission report delivered to Congress last year, Medicare officials began limiting the number of patients who qualify for hospice reimbursement nationwide.
Medicare also is auditing existing claims to determine eligibility, causing a shortage of reimbursement funding to groups like Delaware Hospice for care they have already provided, with many claims being trimmed or denied.
“It’s important to note that in all cases, when a patient is in our care, it is because a physician has said they are suffering from a terminal illness,” Priester said. “Patients in our care are expected to die within six months, but predicting that is not a sure thing. If you meet a physician who gets it right every time, you’re looking in the face of God.”
Delaware Hospice will continue to offer the same menu of services for patients, their families and community members suffering from grief, Priester said.
“What distinguishes Delaware Hospice from other hospice providers is the level of support we give to family members, including help with bereavement before the loss of a loved one and for up to 16 months after,” she said. “We also operate several programs that specifically assist children with the grieving process, including our Transitions and our Camp New Hope programs. None of that will change.”
Page 2 of 2 - The organization also will move forward with its plans to build a new facility in Pike Creek, in addition to its existing facilities in Milford, Dover, Wilmington and Glen Mills, Pa.
It also will continue its palliative pilot program currently offered in Sussex and New Castle counties, which helps patients who are suffering from terminal illness but who might not meet Medicare’s new interpretation of eligibility for hospice care, she said.
“As difficult as this period has been,” Priester said, “we are very grateful for the response we’ve gotten from our friends and supporters everywhere we go, who have thanked us for our service to the community.”