Empath Health Community Outreach Director: Connect with Underserved Populations 

Laurie Tillotson-Colbert was recently tapped to be director of provider and community relations for Empath Health, which among other holdings owns and operates Suncoast Hospice in Florida. In this role, Tillotson-Colbert will lead teams who will work to develop professional relationships with care and referral partners as well as community outreach, including engagement with populations that historically are underserved when it comes to hospice care. 

Tillotson-Colbert joined Empath Health in 2018 as a professional relations liaison concentrating on building relationships with Empath Health and hospital care partners. 

Tillotson-Colbert recently sat down with Hospice News to discuss establishing relationships with underserved populations as well as clinician education.  

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Coming into this role, what will be your top priorities?

My top priorities are to increase access to populations that we have not been able to gain referrals from that need our support. I also have a passion for working with the physicians to help them understand through education how early referrals to their patients who are within the window of six months or less, even a year, with terminal diagnosis can be beneficial not only to the patient, but to the family, for the bereavement services that surround that.

You mentioned reaching out to some underserved populations. Can you give a few examples of those populations?

We have community partnership specialists that reach out to the African American community, the Hispanic community and the Jewish communities, and it’s very important that we understand their faith, beliefs, ideas, that we seek out ways to help them on their terms and work with them to determine the needs of that population.

What are some of the messages that you hope to bring to those communities?

I think that one of the most important messages is that Suncoast Hospice has a wide range of services to help support our community through the last corridor of life and to really explain the uses of our care centers.

I think that sometimes it’s a misnomer that a patient may go there to pass, when that’s not exactly the best use of our care centers. We use them for respite care, and we use them to stabilize patients in a lot of different situations.

I also would like earlier referrals to Suncoast Hospice for patients that are given that diagnosis, even if it’s a little bit of an intervention — without with our home care, or whether it’s palliative care — but some way to bring them into our organization so we can start building that relationship, offering support and gaining their trust.

One of the major industry-wide challenges that many hospices are facing are the stigma and misconceptions about what hospice and palliative care are. Will you be addressing this in some of your community outreach efforts?

Absolutely. We will be addressing that through in-services with physicians. We work with them directly — as well as the nursing departments of the facilities and hospitals — to help them understand how we can help.

I think by educating our care partners, they can help disparage some of those misnomers about hospice, and a lot of times when they do refer to us in a timely way, we’re good at communicating back to them how it has been helpful to the patient and the family.

Can you speak to some of the strategies and messaging you might use to educate clinicians who might be outside of the hospice community on the nature and the value of these types of care?

We also offer annual symposiums, and that’s an opportunity for our clinicians outside our organization to come learn and meet with a panel of experts who can help educate them. I do believe that peer-to-peer education is extremely important, taking our doctors out to meet our clinicians in the community. There is nothing that really takes the place from those peer-to-peer conversations. We also have liaisons that go out and do a great bit of education in clinical offices.

What are some of the ways that you foster relationships within your care network? What kind of mutual support do they provide?

With our care partners, especially on the hospital level and the facilities, it’s making sure that we understand their needs and find ways that we can partner.

For instance, some of the hospitals struggle with readmissions, often for patients that suffer from chronic heart failure or who are chronically ill and just keep going through the cycle. The hospitals actually getting penalized for that. It would behoove them to have us intervene, to care for those patients in an outpatient setting, so they don’t have to return to the emergency department. I think that when we show that to the hospitals, they appreciate that partnership; they understand that we’re looking out for the patients, as well as for our care partners.

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