Hospice Providers Quickly Opening Inpatient Units for COVID-19 Patients

Hospices are adapting their inpatient facilities to care for COVID-19 patients as the number of people afflicted with the virus continues to swell. Though many, if not most, coronavirus patients receive care in their homes, in some instances the severity of symptoms necessitates inpatient care. 

Georgia-based Hospice Savannah and some locations of the national chain Compassus are among the providers who have converted existing facilities into a space suitable for potentially infection patients. Last October, private equity firm Towerbrook Capital Partners and health system Ascension Health agreed to acquire Compassus at a valuation of $1 billion, with multiples of EBITDA in the low teens.

South Carolina-headquartered Heart of Hospice opened an entirely new inpatient center in Louisiana with only eight days to plan, set up and begin operations. Heart of Hospice is a portfolio company of Evening Post Industries and cares for nearly 1,000 patients out of nine locations in Louisiana, with additional operations in South Carolina, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Mississippi.  

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“Our predominant locations are in Louisiana, and we have definitely seen an influx of [COVID-19 patients]. We just decided to do it, because the disease seemed to be spreading really rapidly in New Orleans. We got this idea [of opening an inpatient unit] literally less than two weeks ago,” Carla Davis, CEO of Heart of Hospice, told Hospice News. “We’re not an inpatient provider in New Orleans. That was on our list of things to evaluate in 2021, maybe open in 2022, and we ended up opening it eight days.”

Heart of Hospice partnered with East Jefferson Hospital and Bridgepoint Continuing Care Hospital to establish the 15-bed unit, which has a temporary license set to expire at the end of June. The unit is reserved for patients who have COVID-19 as well as those whose symptoms are consistent with the virus but have not received confirmation. The facility is currently accepting patients.

“This is an outstanding example of hospice providers thinking broadly about how to best care for people with COVID-19 who are not able to return home to receive person-centered, interdisciplinary care from professionals best skilled at caring for them. The efforts of Heart of Hospice and Hospice Savannah serve as important models to other providers across the country,” said National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization president and CEO Edo Banach.

Hospice Savannah was also quick to respond to the needs of COVID-19 patients who enter hospice. When the numbers of patients suffering from the virus began to rise in Georgia, Hospice Savannah quickly converted about 50% of its existing hospice house into a space suitable for COVID-19 patients. The hospice is also caring for a number of coronavirus patients in the home setting.

Each patient care room in the eight-bed coronavirus unit has an entrance from the outdoors. The wing is isolated from the rest of the facility by closed doors and plastic seals, and the hospice built a new, dedicated nursing station to ensure that staff who are caring for potentially infectious patients are separated from the other patients and staff. Hospice Savannah is also acquiring testing kits for the virus.

“We notified all the local hospitals that we will be changing up the way we accept patients, and we’ll be taking those positive [for the virus] into their own isolation wing, and they breathed a huge sigh of relief,” said Kathleen Benton, CEO of Hospice Savannah.

The hospice has been working to acquire enough personal protective equipment to enable a minimal number of visitors to be present for dying patients as safely as possible. They also worked with the Savannah College of Art and Design to create a virtual visitation where multiple family members can visit with patients remotely.

“We don’t want patients to die alone, and they will not die alone,” Benton told Hospice News.

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