Valley Hospice Launches Caring Connections Palliative Care Service

Ohio-based Valley Hospice has developed a new palliative care program called Caring Connections that will enable the nonprofit provider to engage with patients further upstream in the course of their serious or chronic illnesses.

Hospices nationwide have been diversifying their services to include palliative care and a host of other types of programs, such as home health care, home-based primary care, Programs for All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly (PACE) programs and others. Many in the hospice industry see service diversification as a business imperative to ensuring that hospices, particularly smaller community-based organizations, remain financially viable in order to support their mission.

“We have been serving this community for 35 years this year as a hospice program, and we have reached numerous numerous people over the years, but what we’ve found is there’s a space where patients’ needs are not being met because there was no other community-based palliative care,” Cynthia Bougher, CEO of Valley Hospice, told Hospice News. “There are times when one of two things might happen: Either a patient that truly has a six-month terminal prognosis but is not emotionally or otherwise ready to make the decision, or someone who truly has a prognosis of 18 months to two years and is in need of the type of care we provide.”

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Valley Hospice serves about 1,000 hospice patients annually. Through Caring Connections, the organization will provide symptom control, emotional support and assistance with advance care planning and medical decision making with the goal of improving the patient’s quality of life. 

The seed of the program germinated two years ago when the organization did an assessment and review of the diagnoses of patients in most need of their services. They found that patients with some common diagnoses were more likely than others to be admitted to a hospital. Congestive heart failure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and other heart and lung diseases are a few examples.

“We used education from the [Center to Advance Palliative Care] as a base for learning how to provide upstream palliative care, and we reached out to other palliative care organizations and hospitals around the country, and then hired an advanced practice nurse provided and moved forward from there. We did our homework to make sure that we were choosing the right population and that we had the right skill set to provide care to that population.”

Establishing a palliative care program will likely better position Valley Hospice to participate in emerging value-based payment models in the hospice space, such as the Medicare Advantage hospice carve-in and the Primary Care First initiative, including that program’s Serious Illness Population model.

“[The payment models] didn’t factor into our decision to launch Caring Connections, because we started looking at this two years ago when much of that hadn’t surfaced,” Bougher said. “At this point, certainly something we’re exploring is how can we get ourselves into some of those models.”

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