Engaging with senior living operators to provide hospice care in their facilities can provide opportunities to grow patient census and encounter patients earlier in the course of their illness, according to Mark Hayes, vice president of operations in Sumter County, Fla., for VITAS Healthcare, the hospice subsidiary of Chemed Corp. (NYSE: CHE).
VITAS recently opened a de novo location within The Villages, a community for seniors in central Florida that according to the U.S. Census Bureau was the fastest growing city in the United States in both 2013 and 2014. The community’s current population exceeded 122,000 as of March.
The new VITAS location currently includes 149 staff caring for close to 200 patients, numbers that the company expects to grow.
“I think there are a great deal of advantages for building those types of relationships [with senior living],” Hayes told Hospice News. “It builds a better service for the senior living community, allows us to get to know them better and educate them about hospice.”
Lack of awareness or understanding of hospice care is a major barrier to utilization nationwide. Regular, open channels of communication with the senior living operators they work with is a key component of VITAS strategy in those communities.
Some facilities are wary of inviting hospice in or with hospice having a visible presence due to image concerns. They don’t want residents or prospective residents to associate their community with the end of life. Educational efforts can play a significant role in ameliorating these concerns.
“That’s a common issue that hospices in general encounter. We experience those types of challenges every day, but we have a lot of programs and services to educate the senior living facilities about what hospice can do for them and their residents,” Hayes said. “Hospice is a much needed service within those facilities. The more they hear about hospice, the more comfortable they become with it and realize that we are here to help.”
In addition to opening the new location, VITAS has announced a $75,000 scholarship program for nursing students in Lake and Sumter Counties in Florida, an area that includes The Villages.
The company will distribute funds from the grant during the next three years, with a $50,000 endowed scholarship for student nurses in need and $25,000 to support end-of-life care training and curricula.
Hospices nationwide are experiencing serious staff shortages that are expected to worsen during the next two decades, with Florida likely to take the hardest hit.
“Providing nurses with end-of-life education will help more patients make the end-of-life transition with dignity, respect and family support,” said Hayes. “In a high-demand labor market for nurses, this grant has the potential to make a nursing career attainable for some truly talented students.”